Joe Bonamassa has had a hegemonic grip on the blues rock scene for some years now. And it's easy to understand why. He always delivers through his undeniably virtuosic fretboard talents. And the music he makes is unchallenging and accessible - indubitably, it’s always been easily digestible ear fodder, so it has instant wide appeal. Some would have you believe he's pushing the boundaries of the blues. However, he's only ever paving the way for the scene’s incessantly increasing popularity rather than its development. I would argue the man’s music is actually more about regression than progression. If you're renowned as a master (and, in Bonamassa's case, a hegemonist) within a particular scene, and compose some tracks that veer from the idioms of tried and tested blues paths, this is not a display of parameter pushing proclivities; rather, you're merely playing in a different style to that of the blues. Bonamassa might be progressing from and within his blues rock pastiche, to tread the waters of other genres in a similar pastiched fashion, but that doesn’t make him a blues iconoclast. I’ve heard genuine progression and iconoclasm within the genre, and Bonamassa is not it and never has been.
With his latest album, number 13… unlucky for some… it’s no surprise to read in overzealous press blurb that this new material “sees him at his most ambitious and diverse as he continues to redefine and push the barriers of blues-rock.” So predictable. Barriers aren’t being pushed here. Not at all. However, I agree that this is perhaps Bonamassa’s most diverse work to date. As such, it offers up quite the journey through a number of stylistic shifts that are refreshingly unpredictable, even if blues-rock parameters haven’t been widened in any sense. ‘King Bee Shakedown’, for example, isn’t a blues-rock parameter pusher; rather, it’s a rockabilly swayed boogie piece, complete with a bit of rhythm and blues that sounds like the man’s jamming with Jools Holland and his merry band of musicians. ‘Molly O’ is straight out of the classic rock period of the early 70s. ‘Pick Up the Pieces’ is down-ish tempo jazz-infused blues that conjures images of a smoke-filled sleazy bar. ‘The Ghost of Macon Jones’ sees Bonamassa throw a bit of Americana into the mix, a track that also contains guest vocals from country singer Jamey Johnson.
The epic, anthemic feeling of album opener ‘Evil Mama’ and the title track are undoubted highlights here; both are true standout pieces; elevated by some very well executed and orchestrated backing vocal harmonies (courtesy of Mahalia Barnes, Jade McRae and Juanita Tippins). And the emotional fragility of both Bonamassa’s voice and his acoustic picking in the gentle ballad, ‘Stronger Now in Broken Pieces’, is certainly the strongest track on the record. Then there are numbers like ‘Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should’, ‘I’ve Got Some Mind Over What Matters’ and ‘Love is a Gamble’, which veer way more towards trad-blues, through and through, to satisfy the genre purists out there.
So, unlucky for some? Only for those misled by the tantalising press rambles that promise a boundary smashing propensity and some kind of genre reinvention. For those who’ve learnt to either ignore or see through the transparency of rhetorically ornate blurb, and will sit back and enjoy ‘Redemption’ for precisely what it is – a solid album loaded with fine musicianship and great songwriting, with Bonamassa doing what he does best - there’ll be zero disappointment. His wonderful fretboard abilities are on display in abundance. It all sounds very marvellous, too, with production duties in the ever-reliable hands of Kevin Shirley, who’s captured Bonamassa and his fellow musicians to perfection - a nice balance between organic flair and polished sounds. All in all, ‘Redemption’ is not a career-defining masterpiece or anything like that, but does provide yet another great listen within the man’s increasingly prolific body of work.
Review by Mark Holmes
21st Sept 2018
1) Evil Mama; 2) King Bee Shakedown
3) Molly O'
4) Deep in the Blues Again
5) Self-Inflicted Wounds
6) Pick Up the Pieces
7) The Ghost of Macon Jones
8) Just 'Cos You Can Don't Mean You Should
10) I've Got Some Mind Over What Matters
11) Stronger Now in Broken Places
12) Love is a Gamble
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...it offers up quite the journey through a number of stylistic shifts that are refreshingly unpredictable, even if blues-rock parameters haven’t been widened in any sense."