The drum intro to “Evil Mama,” the first track on Redemption, the new album from Joe Bonamassa, recalls Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” There’s also a taste of “Kashmir” during the guitar solo. “Evil Mama” turns out to be a blast of soul-rock driven by horns as much as by Bonamassa’s electric guitar, but its heavy-rock roots are powerfully evident as well.
That hard-hitting promise carries through these 12 tracks, all written by Bonamassa and a team of co-writers including Gary Nicholson and even, on the title track, Dion DiMucci. A big-name band of blues-rock blisterers including legendary drummer Anton Fig, Doug Lancio on second guitar, and bassist supreme Michael Rhodes cranks them out convincingly.
Fueled by riffs, shouts, and common lyrical tropes, the songs are rife with big-legged women, ships of fools, reaping what you sow, and Johnnie Walker Black. But who cares? The music’s chunky and full-tilt. The ghost of Zeppelin returns in the sinking-ship yarn “Molly O’,” with a wall-of-rock sound that characterizes much of the album. “Deep in the Blues Again” strikes with a roar out of the arena-rock 1970s. “Self-Inflicted Wounds” slow-churns with high drama through the murk of a mea culpa.
“Pick Up the Pieces,” one of my favorite tracks, wails barrelhouse-style, with harmony vocals recalling Joe Jackson’s “Jumpin’ Jive” revival. Another top track, the rocking folk ballad “The Ghost of Macon Jones,” about a mysterious suicide, is deepened by Jamey Johnson‘s low-lonesome vocals as its spectral introduction leads into a lively, minor-key, two-step blues.
Two co-writes with Gary Nicholson change things up again. Both shine the spotlight on Bonamassa’s vocals. The lyrical acoustic ballad “Stronger Now in Broken Places” showcases his sensitive side. “Love is a Gamble” asserts the fundamental prominence of pure Chicago blues in the crowded history of rock that he plumbs so well.
The album focuses more on song than on shredding, with Bonamassa’s six-string wizardry worked into the arrangements rather than blatantly front and center. Still, masterful solos like the ones in “Evil Mama,” “Love is a Gamble,” and “Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should” remind us (for those who haven’t been paying attention) that we’re in the hands of one of our era’s greatest blues-rock guitarists.
Redemption is available now.