Joe Bonamassa: Different Shades of Blue

Joe Bonamassa's 11th solo studio album has landed. But is it business as usual or blues with a twist?

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Another new album from Joe Bonamassa album means he’s not about to give up on reaching millionaire status any time soon...

The releases just keep on coming. Though amazingly,_ Different Shades Of Blue_ is his first studio album since 2012’s Driving Towards The Daylight. Mind you, in those 28 months he has managed to release six (count ‘em) live albums, plus two albums with Beth Hart (one of those, live), plus the Rock Candy Funk Party one-off. Oh, and the third and final Black Country Communion effort, Afterglow.

For a studio project with his own name on it, he’s eschewed that conveyor belt approach.

He took most of 2013 off touring and headed to Nashville. In the home of country music he sat down to co-write, variously, with Jonathan Cain and country singer/songwriters James House and Jerry Flowers. The three of them can point to hits stretching from Journey to Dwight Yoakam and Keith Urban, so they make a pretty impressive collection of song doctors – suggesting he wanted to make this a big seller and earn a fair bit of radio time. The process must have been deemed a success because Different Shades Of Blue contains 10 songs from those sessions.

Ol’ JoBo still can’t resist a cover, though.

Going to all that trouble meant that he was finally able to release a Joe Bonamassa album comprising new and entirely original material. But, bizarrely, he opens it with a 79-second skip through Jimi Hendrix’s studio jam Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) and boosts the running order up to 11. The more you play the album, the less sense it makes. Jimi’s version lasted six minutes…

He’s still got “the blues”.

As the title suggests, Different Shades Of Blue provides a whistle-stop tour of various – but far from all – styles of the “blues” genre. Produced, as usual, by Kevin Shirley, it also pays homage to the guitarist’s own influences within it. That means the apples don’t roll far from the tree: often you’ll be able to pinpoint where he is in the orchard, or whose fruit he’s shaking down. Oh Beautiful! leans on a riff that is Zeppelin-esque in places. Never Give All Your Heart has a guitar intro that evokes Paul Kossoff, and a piano refrain (by Reese Wynans, ex- Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble) that suggests Bad Company/late-period Free… say Common Mortal Man. And I Gave Up Everything For You, ’Cept The Blues is a Stevie Ray Vaughan shuffle re-born.

**And he still can’t resist throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. **

As excellent as Wynan’s keyboards are (both piano and Hammond) they are omnipresent. Plus there’s a horn section on most songs – so many of the numbers sound overdressed. But you don’t go to Nashville to make an album that’s stripped down and raw as a carpet burn. No, you get all your top muso buddies – Bonamassa regulars Carmine Rojas and Michael Rhodes play bass, Anton Fig is the drummer – and craft something that’s super slick. Which means a big-in-the-studio sound which will leave some yearning for something as simple as a three-piece approach.

But when it’s good it’s very, very good.

The aforementioned Oh Beautiful! is hard to resist, and Love Ain’t A Love Song is sensationally funky with a great solo. Never Give All Your Heart stands out, also. And for a change of pace try the title-track – a mid-tempo ballad a la Clapton – is good, too, with some stylish acoustic picking beneath the electric lead lines.

Neil Jeffries

Freelance contributor to Classic Rock and several of its offshoots since 2006. In the 1980s he began a 15-year spell working for Kerrang! intially as a cub reviewer and later as Geoff Barton’s deputy and then pouring precious metal into test tubes as editor of its Special Projects division. Has spent quality time with Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Ritchie Blackmore, Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore – and also spent time in a maximum security prison alongside Love/Hate. Loves Rush. Aerosmith and beer. Will work for food.