Joe Bonamassa – Different Shades of Blue (2014)

Share this:

There are few blues-rockers today who are as consistent as Joe Bonamassa but sometimes consistency can lead to stagnation. Though solid, Bonamassa’s last LP Driving Toward The Daylight (2012) suggested the premier guitarist, vocalist and songwriter had made this one on autopilot. Bonamassa may have sensed that too: “I’ve really had to push myself to make everything I do better than the last project,” he says.

To outdo himself and push his art forward with the bar already set pretty high, Bonamassa left his long-standing template of mixing in covers with originals and had a hand in writing every track for his next album, Different Shades of Blue, coming out September 23, 2014 from his J&R Adventures label. But instead of writing the songs on his own, he partnered in Nashville with established composers like James House who’s written hit tunes for Diamond Rio, Dwight Yoakam and Martina McBride, as well as Jerry Flowers, known for penning tunes for Keith Urban. Oh, and Bonamassa wrote with Jonathan Cain, too. Yes, that Jonathan Cain.

Joe B.’s songwriting acumen didn’t really require extra polish, but the input from these proven pros certainly didn’t hurt, either. And any anxiety that he went “country” or “Journey” on us should quickly be put to rest; these song bear his fingerprints much more than his songwriting mates. We saw early on when he introduced his House collaboration “Oh Beautiful!” to a French audience back in March that Bonamassa wasn’t looking for a stylistic change, just a tweak to improve on an approach that’s already proven successful.

That improvement comes in a more aggressive push against the boundaries of contemporary blues, making an album that offers different, widely varied takes of the broader-based blues. That’s the freedom that often comes with writing all your own material.

The album starts off mighty strong, a killer string of four tunes that reminds us of the diversity Bonamassa finds in the broad context of the blues. The Hendrix-inspired instrumental intro “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” serves as a just-right passage into the Led Zeppelin crunch of “Oh Beautiful!.” A sax from Ron Dziubla and a trumpet from Lee Thornburg give “Love Ain’t A Love Song” swift, soulful kick in the ass and the lyrics have the swagger to match the melody; it’s meant to be played loud. The horns reappear on “Living On The Moon,” a crisp blues shuffle, and Bonamassa gets a nasty thing going for his brief guitar solo.

Come to think of it, there seems to be more horns than what’s usual on a Bonamassa record, and that’s not such a bad thing. They appear on another blues shuffle, “I Gave Up Everything For You, ‘Cept The Blues,” which also features some doo-wop backing vocals. And of course, there’s brass in “Trouble Town,” where Big Easy funk meets the Black Country blues.

Speaking of British blues-rock, “Never Give All Your Heart” will delight fans of classic Bad Company, and for those with a hunger for the dirty lowdown kind of blues, “Heartache Follows Wherever I Go” fills the bill and then some. Bonamassa seems to be paying homage to Ray Charles on the closing number “So, What Would I Do,” a gospel blues ballad framed by Reese Wynans’ Sunday morning piano and topped off by a righteous guitar solo.

Kevin Shirley is on board as producer as he’s been for the prior fifteen Bonamassa albums and he declares Different Shades of Blue his “favorite Joe Bonamassa record to date.” Like the title of the album and the deeply soulful song of the same name, this new batch of songs points up the fact that the blues does come in so many different shades. And all of it is good.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
Share this:
Close