When talking about major figures in blues, the conversation is almost guaranteed to include such luminaries as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Steve Ray Vaughan, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, Koko Taylor and the like. But if you're talking about the blues scene of today, such talk has to include Joe Bonamassa. Think not?
Consider that Bonamassa's last three albums have all reached the top spot in the Billboard's Blues Chart; his last studio album Sloe Gin (2007) stayed in the Top 10 for a whole year. He captured Guitar Player's "Best Blues Guitarist" Readers' Choice award the last two years and "Artist Of The Year" by Blues Wax Magazine an unprecedented three times. He's being widely called one the best blues-rock musicians out there today, if not the best.
Opening for B.B. King at age 12 and mentored by the late, great guitarist Danny Gatton, Bonamassa's first album at 23 years old, A New Day Yesterday, was one of the last records produced by the legendary Tom Dowd. Since then, Bonamassa's output has vacillated between honoring the blues and blues-rock tradition of King, Gatton, Jeff Beck and Paul Kosoff (of Free) as well as the guitar hero-rich territory of hard rock. For most of this time, Bonamassa's vocals and songwriting, neither of which were ever bad, took a back seat to his incendiary guitar attack.
Nevertheless, with virtuosic guitar playing serving as Bonamassa's obvious calling card, it's easy to overlook his singing, but his pipes are more than competent. He's got a nicely worn, soulful vocal attack that's just a hair less gravelly than Warren Haynes' and, lately, he seems more at ease in making it fit within his fretwork.
So no matter what I think of his shiny new product out today, The Ballad Of John Henry, it's likely to rack up accolades and top the blues chart, too, as Joe B. has been on some kind of an undeniable roll of late. Bonamassa could have easily coasted this time; instead, he has offered up his most fully realized album to date.