There’s no point in denying it. Joe Bonamassa is special both to me and as an artist.
It’s ten years or so ago that I heard an album called “Sloe Gin” that had been recommended to me by a friend. It must be nine years ago that I saw him for the first time, in Wolverhampton Civic Hall on the tour for the album that followed, “The Ballad Of John Henry”. And in the interests of full disclosure, what happened that night was responsible for my love of blues.
I suspect that I can’t be the only one with that story. Goodness knows how many players and fans the music of Bonamassa (and crikey, there’s been a lot of it!) has influenced over the years.
But here’s the really interesting thing about Joe – and I use the first name because he feels like a friend in a way – if we knew he was incredible as a guitarist, it’s fair to say that we might not have predicted just how good a songwriter he was going to be.
“Redemption” is his third album of entirely self-penned material and it had a lot to live up to, given that in particular “Blues Of Desperation” from a couple of years back was astonishing. One thing, though, you should never do is doubt Bomamassa. He always finds a way to set a new high watermark.
Another thing you have to admire about him is – and I suspect that producer Kevin Shirley has a lot to do with this – he’s always pushing the boundaries.
It’s like, I love AC/DC, but you can tell an AC/DC song a mile off. If they released an album tomorrow, then you know what it would sound like. That isn’t the case with Bonamassa. To that end, they added some extra guitar players this time to compliment the star and to change the dynamic.
I saw him play a gig earlier in the year and the show started with the first three here. “Evil Mama” is absolutely rooted in rock n roll. This is both figurative and literal given that it comes in with a horn section to die for and also pinches the drum intro from the Led Zep track.
“King Bee Shakedown” is so classic sounding that it shouldn’t be a new song, but it is. It’s catchy, soul-filled chorus is sure to be in the live sets for many years. The next one, is the standout though. “Molly O” (which returns to the theme of the Titanic that coloured JB’s contribution to last year’s album of the year from Black Country Communion). It’s use of orchestration is another nod to Led Zep perhaps, but the sense of longing here is incredible.
There is a sense too, that now he’s a genuine, Bonafide singer-songwriter, Bonamassa is ever more confident in his work and ever more willing to share himself with his audience. “Deep In The Blues Again” sounds personal and is a real southern rock thing, while there is a real sense of desperation about the wonderful “Self-Inflicted Wounds” that marks another first for him, I don’t think the emotion has been this raw in his work before.
In fact, everywhere you look there’s something new. “Picking Up The Pieces” has a late night jazz thing, more akin to Urban Voodoo Machine than Bonamassa, and there’s a pulse about the slide guitar and organ of “The Ghost Of Macon Jones” – a duet with Jamey Johnston, a Nashville based singer, and “Just Cos You Can, Don’t Mean You Should” is a timely reminder that he’s the best at blues guitar solo’s.
The title track is a real swampy affair, it casts him “looking for peace and my redemption…..” and maybe that is what this record is about. Certainly there is a Gospel tinge to the backing vocals here to emphasise the searching for something.
It might have been that the album was missing a dirty, bluesy boogie. “I’ve Got Some Mind Over What Matters” happily rectifies that, and the Spanish acoustic guitar on the stripped down – and utterly heartbreaking – “Stronger Now In Broken Places”, is absolutely gorgeous.
There’s a stoicism about “Redemption” a willingness to keep going if you like, to get knocked down and get back up again. Not for nothing you suspect, does it end with “Love Is a Gamble”. “If the hand that you’re holding doesn’t bring you luck”, goes its key line. “Then there’s a chance that next one will.” It is also the most blues orientated thing on the album and maybe that’s significant: that is to say whatever else happens, then the blues never leaves you.
Giving a Joe Bonamassa album top marks is almost a cliché, but the fact is that this is – yet again – a stunning piece of work and one that only adds to the legacy that he’s already created.