It may suck getting old for most people, but not for modern blues maestro Joe Bonamassa. He will be turning 40 next year, but this workaholic isn’t showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon. Always either touring or recording, he now has 12 studio release out under his own name with the recent release of Blues of Desperation. And what an album it is.
Featuring not one but two drummers/percussionists (Greg Morrow and Anton Fig), about a dozen different guitars (and even a sitar), and a trio of female backup (gospel) singers, this blues guitar virtuoso is not subtle about being versatile this deep into his career. There’s even a sunny slice of Americana on this new LP too. More on that later.
Right from the opening (heavy) D Major chord of first tune “This Train” – guitar tuning is likely DGCFAD – you know you’re in for some ballsy blues rock, exactly the type that attracted many fans to him in the first place. Mind you, this is a guy influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Cream, Leslie West, and Frank Marino in that regard.
Speaking of West, the next track, the equally heavy “Mountain Climbing,” is so named after his pioneering hard rock band Mountain and their influential debut album Climbing – you may remember hit “Mississippi Queen” from that record. After that, things get a little mellow and spacious with “Drive.” It’s a good tune but it could’ve been placed further down the tracklist – it just brings the energy of B.O.D. down a bit too much this early into the disc.
Song four, “No Good Place for the Lonely,” is the absolute centerpiece of this new record and is sure to be a live favorite for years to come. Here, Bonamassa’s vocal range peaks with passion that almost matches his fiery guitar playing. Don’t worry about it being eight minutes long because the last three or so minutes will leave you in awe as he pours his soul into his Gibson guitar, giving listeners a symphony of solos you’ll want to experience again and again.
The badass title track sees the guitarist adding the always enchanting sitar to a tune that carries a Joe Walsh-meets-Zeppelin vibe (think “Life’s Been Good” and the wild, echo-laden breakdown of “Whole Lotta Love”). The acoustic guitar-led soul-pop/Americana ditty “The Valley Runs Low” is meant to be radio gold. I’d be surprised if it isn’t a hit single by the end of the year.
“You Left Me Nothin’ But the Bill and the Blues” returns B.O.D. to old school jumpin’ I-IV-V blues, with “I Saw Her Standing There”-ish bass lines providing the requisite energy on this number. “Livin’ Easy” has a nostalgic back alley blues feel, complete with a bit distant-sounding sax, swinging acoustic guitar and piano lines, with a tambourine providing the only beat needed to move the track along.
The record ends appropriately with the relaxed, sax-and-guitar-led blues of “What I’ve Known for a Very Long Time.” It’s got that end of SNL music feel to it.
Joe Bonamassa has made his mark over the years as a must-see live act and non-stop recording artist, starting with debut record A New Day Yesterday (2000). His numerous live releases – including Live from the Royal Albert Hall – are killer, of course. On both fronts, he tackles old blues and classic rock covers with as much authority as he puts into his own songs. But with his two most recent albums – including 2014’s Different Shades of Blue – it seems he has finally gotten more confident with just recording his own music – a very short Hendrix cover aside on DSOB.
That confidence has now resulted in what is in my opinion Bonamassa’s best and most wide-ranging, yet focused studio effort to date: Blues of Desperation. Without a doubt, it will also be on my list of top albums of 2016.