J&R Adventures – 2014
11 tracks; 49 minutes.
Joe Bonamassa has established his formidable reputation on both sides of the Atlantic by constant touring and an album a year for the last fifteen years; in the UK he has gone from dingy London pubs to sell-out gigs at the Albert Hall in little over ten years. Joe did not release a solo studio album in 2013, preferring to concentrate on writing with a number of experienced Nashville songwriters and the resulting CD is another strong addition to his catalogue. Collaborators include James House, Jerry Flowers, Jonathon Cain, Jeffrey Stele and Gary Nicholson. Regular producer Kevin Shirley is again at the helm and a stellar cast of musicians were assembled in Las Vegas to support Joe’s guitar and vocals: Reese Wynans on keys, Carmine Rojas and Michael Rhodes on bass, Anton Fig on drums, Lenny Castro on percussion, Lee Thornburg on trumpet and trombone, Ron Dziubla on sax, Doug Henthorn and Melanie Williams on backing vocals plus the ‘Bovaland Orchestra’ who add strings to one track.
The CD opens with a brief snatch of Hendrix’s “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” which is played pretty straight by Joe. The Hendrix tease is appropriate for the next track “Oh Beautiful” which veers between unaccompanied vocal and very heavy rock riffing, very much in Jimi style but also with a touch of Zeppelin, particularly in the heavy drums and bass. The horns add some funk to “Love Ain’t A Love Song” which rattles along at a fast pace with one of several lyrics that talk about the breakdown of a relationship: “All I know is a woman I knew, she didn’t get me too far. Ain’t nobody work harder, ain’t nobody love you more” – is this personal or just the songwriter’s art? Joe’s angst in the lyrics spills over into a wild solo over the baying horns. “Living On The Moon” is a busy shuffle with the horns and organ leading the way and Joe riffing furiously in his solo. Two more ‘break-up’ songs follow in different styles: “Heartache Follows Me Wherever I Go” finds Joe playing under his vocals on a mid-paced chugger, the horns behind his angst-filled vocal (“I’ve been down to the bottom and I know that it hurts”) which is underlined by his solo, played with plenty of heavy wah-wah; “Never Give All Your Heart” sounds like the advice of a man who has had his fingers burned by love and appropriately Joe’s guitar rings out like a warning bell at the start of this rock ballad on which Reese’s piano playing is also a feature. Classic rock in style, this one recalls Free in their prime with fine vocals and an outstanding solo from Joe – a definite highlight.
Joe then gives us a great Elmore James riff as he explains just how much he sacrificed in the relationship – “I Gave Up Everything For You, ‘Cept The Blues”. This is a real foot-tapper with Joe’s fast-fingered riffing backed up by the horns and piano – great stuff! The title track “Different Shades Of Blue” is another standout with Joe’s weeping guitar underlining more tragic lyrics: “When you got nothing left to lose, might sound good, but I’m not sure that’s true. You carry the pain around and that’s what sees you through”. Swirling organ and an attractive guitar figure open “Get Back My Tomorrow” which again delivers a story of sorrow in a mid-paced rocker. The horns return to assist on a strong ensemble performance of “Trouble Town” which works around a core riff that recalls “Black Cat Bone”, Joe using slide on the outro section. The album closes with the only song that Joe wrote alone for this album, “So, What Would I Do?”. Reese’s gospel-tinged piano and organ are at the heart of this ballad on which the strings are also featured. Joe’s soulful, BB King inspired guitar works very well against that background to close the album on another high point.
Joe’s legion of fans will be certain to enjoy this album, especially with virtually all the material being original. Those who see Joe as just another rocker may be surprised by the quality of the playing and the variety of styles on offer, from heavy rock to classic balladry – different shades of blues indeed.