The Man Who Never Sleeps
For a man who sings that he “was never a great puncher of time clocks” on the song that gives Time Clocks (29 October 2021/ Provogue) its name, Joe Bonamassa nonetheless maintains a work rhythm that is exhausting just to think about.
‘Does this man ever sleep?’ asks one commentator under the video for the song Notches, which is an understandable question when we recall that Guitars Exchange this year has already reviewed the studio album Royal Tea; the live recording of the same record at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium; and Joanna Connor’s album, on which Bonamassa was producer. Additionally, there are the accompanying videos, the recent documentary Guitar Man, and his charitable work with Keeping The Blues Alive, among other projects.
I still love his collaborations with Beth Hart best, but despite my slight misgivings at his incredible output – namely about how quality can be maintained with such quantity - this album is undoubtedly another stimulating and highly enjoyable listen. He doesn’t care about the haters and why should he?; he is playing primarly for his own enjoyment and his reputation and audiences continue to grow apace.
This album reportedly began its gestation in New York City in February 2021, where Bonamassa has both lived and recorded, when the blues man linked up with his longtime producer and co-songwriter Kevin Shirley in Australia. Together the duo have enlisted drummer Anton Fig, keyboardist Lachy Doley and bass player Steve Mackey as well as female back-up singers Juanita Tippins and Prinnie Stevens who are adding their magic touch to a number of albums these days (listen to their recent collaboration with Robert Jon & The Wreck on Shine A Light On Me Brother, for example).
The theme to the album is time, and Pilgrimage opens appropriately with a kind of timeless Arabic march sound, a few well-placed chimes, and Bonamassa cutting through with some fine guitar, which recalls Dave Gilmour in his pomp. The Eastern chant gradually segues into the marvellous Notches, which kick starts the heavy blues rock sound that is now Bonamassa’s signature. “I’ve got miles under my wheels, Notches in my walking cane, Still winking at hard times, Smiling at the pouring rain,” he sings; and you know that the onetime boy guitar-prodigy has truly gone.
The Heart That Never Waits continues in bombastic but more bluesy style, with Bonamassa using the tight rhythm section and wonderful backing vocals as a springboard for a soaring solo that cuts in at just after the three minute mark. The video that accompanies this song opens with a loving shot of Joe playing his Fender 1954 Blackguard Telecaster.
Questions and Answers introduces some experimentation that doesn’t quite meet its objective, while the slow piano and guitars that begin Mind’s Eye is better, particularly the lyrics: “I’m haunted, By memories you can’t see, A place that’s easy to get to, But hard as hell as to leave.” Curtain Call sports an interesting military drum beat opening, while The Loyal Kind features flute and acoustic guitar, and lyrics referring to maidens and horses, which inevitably recalls Jethro Tull. Hanging on a Loser returns us to the blues but this time Bonamassa wants to ‘get himself funked up’, as George Clinton might put it. The album closes with Known Unknowns which is another powerhouse of blues-rock that offers welcome space for a final blistering Bonamassa solo.
Time Clocks showcases Bonamassa’s passion for his craft, his breathtaking work ethic and his great talent as a musician and songwriter. To date he has been called the Blues Man, Smokin’ Joe and Guitar Man, but perhaps if he keeps this up he may become known as The Man Who Never Sleeps. Not that his growing number of fans are about to complain…