Joe Bonamassa – Blues of Desperation (2016)

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2014’s Different Shades of Blue brought Joe Bonamassa’s full commitment as a singer-songwriter to add to a long-time rep as a premier guitarist, and his well-rounded presentation has kept him at the top of the blues-rock heap for a number of years, now. Blues of Desperation, dropping on March 25, 2016 courtesy of J&R Adventures, is a direct continuation of Shade‘s formula, with Bonamassa turning once again to crack Nashville tunesmiths like James House and Jerry Flowers to help make good songs into great songs.

Bonamassa’s long-time producer Kevin Shirley is back behind the boards, a partnership that’s become as symbiotic as Belichick and Brady or Popovich and Duncan. Shirley again keeps things clean but not overly so, keeping the vocals, songs and, naturally, the guitar of Bonamassa the central focus, even as there are plenty of talent on hand, such as keyboardist Reese Wynans, drummer Anton Fig and Mahalia Barnes as one of the backup singers.

Every song is apt to remind you of the time when blues was an integral part of rock, and especially hard rock, but they’re also distinctive from each other. Wynans’ piano on “This Train” gives that song just a touch of honky tonk. “Blues Of Desperation” has got Led Zeppelin’s funky stomp, mysticism and the monster riffs, whereas “How Deep This River Runs” is reminiscent of another one of Bonamassa’s British blues-based rock favorites, Bad Company. “The Valley Runs Low” is a catchy and upbeat gospel tune graced with acoustic guitars and honeyed female harmony vocals and the horns and electric piano on “What I’ve Known For A Very Long Time” is a sweet slice of Ray Charles soul.

There are a lot of live Bonamassa live CDs and DVDs out there to get a taste of what he’s like in concert, but listen to the extended commanding solo he leaves behind on the aching “No Good Place for the Lonely” to convince you he holds little back in the studio, either. “Distant Lonesome Train,” powered by that Bo Diddley beat, is where Bonamassa lets loose his inner Cream-era Clapton. He can also be quite tasteful in his asides when it’s called for, as it does for the dark, soulful blues “Drive.”

There’s not a lot that separates Blues of Desperation from other recent releases, but Joe Bonamassa is a model for consistency as he throws quality resources into his projects, and these recordings won’t likely sound dated decades from now. Blues of Desperation simply gives us more of what’s in even shorter supply since Gary Moore died: hard, gritty but soul-infused blues-rock with no tricks, just forthright musicianship and earnest passion. You can’t ask for anything more than that.


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
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