Joe Bonamassa – Dust Bowl (2011)

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Photo credit: Christie Goodwin

by S. Victor Aaron

It’s become a late winter tradition for three years running: covering a new release by the most successful electric blues artist of late, Joe Bonamassa. In ’09 it was The Ballad Of John Henry, then ’10 brought us Black Rock. The short story on the reviews I gave on those two is that we are witnessing on those records a mature, self-assured Joe Bonamassa who can sing, write songs and interpret other’s songs at a level that befits his gargantuan guitar chops. Nonetheless, his notoriety in the guitar department has reached the point that last year he notched his first “Best Overall Guitarist” in Guitar Player Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards last year.

Meanwhile, his records dominate the Billboard Blues charts, and his new hard rock side project Black Country Communion (with Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian) hit the ground running last fall and they are already recording their next album. Like that old blues song, you could say that Bonamassa is sittin’ on top of the world. And now, just a year after Black Rock and six months after Black Country Communion, the hardest workin’ man in blues-rock keeps the productivity going at an amazing pace with tomorrow’s issuance of Dust Bowl.

They say that when you’re at the peak of your powers, there no place to go but down. True to that axiom, Dust Bowl overall doesn’t have the same impact of its two immediately preceding albums, but the drop-off isn’t that much. The first five cuts are every bit as good as anything you’ll find on any Joe B. record, starting with his signature melding of real Delta Blues with British hard blues rock that the rip-roaring “Slow Train” represents. It’s followed up by the album’s first single, “Dust Bowl,” a single-chord stomp that sounds radio ready with producer Kevin Shirley’s ability to make a very contemporary recording with enough dashes of classic rock to make the nostalgic fans of 70s blues-rock happy.

[ON THE DOWNLOAD: Here’s a free Mp3 of Joe Bonamassa’s “Dust Bowl” single.]

Special guest artists show up on three tracks on Dust Bowl, and the first one involves Bonamassa once again covering a John Hiatt song, this time with Hiatt himself sharing the lead vocals. “Tennessee Plates” rocks harder than the original that appeared on Hiatt’s Slow Turning–Bonamassa makes everything rock harder–but the real thrill is hearing him trade his metal-blues licks with Vince Gill’s tasty Nashville ones. “The Meaning of the Blues” is a searing slow blues, early-Led Zeppelin style, while “Black Lung Heartache,” with its acoustic slide guitar and mandolin passages, calls to mind mid-period Zeppelin.

The remaining seven tracks don’t distinguish themselves quite as much as the first five, but there’s some small delights contained in them (and course, Bonamassa’s gritty guitar wizardry). His Black Country Communion bandmate, bassist and lead singer Glenn Hughes trades verses with Joe in the hard rock number “Heartbreaker” (Paul Rodger’s song, not the Led Zeppelin version) and its aggressive Brit-rock character makes it virtually a bonus BCC track. Gill reappears for his own song “Sweet Rowena,” this time to help with the singing as well on this honky-tonk number.

Even with a few weaker spots on the record–a matter of the high bar Bonamassa has set and not them being no good—I’d still be hard pressed to find many blues-rock records out this year much better than Dust Bowl.

This record comes courtesy of Bonamassa’s own J&R Adventures label. Visit his site here.

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