Take note

By Tom MacIntosh

New Yorker Joe Bonamassa has been on the music scene for some 26 years. The boy prodigy started his ascent when he was 12, by opening for B.B.King, and hasn’t stopped since. He’s teamed up with the likes of Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Beth Hart, Foreigner, Steve Winwood, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks to list just a few. His latest release Redemption (September 2018), is his 13th solo album, and today we’ll have a listen and take note.

The record was produced by long-time associate Kevin Shirley, and has Bonamassa surrounded here by his touring band of veteran craftsmen and women: Reese Wynans/keyboards (Mark Knopfler, Johnny Cash), Anton Fig/drums, Lee Thornburg/trumpet (C.C. Riders), Paulie Cerra/sax (Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston), guitarist Kenny Greenberg and Doug Lancio, and finally the backing vocalists Mahalia Barnes, Jade McRae
and Juanita Tippins.

The plot-line on this effort revolves around the rough tumultuous times he’s been going through lately, and he certainly bleeds it out superbly with this setlist. The opener Evil Mama is instantly engaging with a strong driving rhythm section (a la Led Zeppelin) and hefty horns answering the throbbing beat, then Bonamassa’s sharp voice jumps in with the soulful chorus in the back. It kicks the door open to an amazing album, which showcases Bonamassa’s evolution as a bonafide singer songwriter, and has a variety of creative angles, such as King Bee Shakedown which is power rock-n-roll with a boogie beat and some slick rockabilly riffs by Joe on his Fender Stratocaster. 

Then power-ballad Molly O gets ‘heavy’, punching its way through (the waves) telling the tragic story of a poor Irish lass who perishes at sea on her way to a new life. The lyrics and especially the heavy beat portray the sinking vessel that never bubbles up, but goes ‘rock’ bottom. The slide work here, on what looks like a Gibson Les Paul from 1960, glides nicely into some signature smokin’ Joe Bonamassa licks. 

Then changing gears on The Ghost of Macon Jones with a country feel, playing a 1955 Gibson Skylark EH500 lap steel to Wynans saloon piano painting the cowboy aesthetic, and the vocal duet with Jamey Johnson is smooth and heartfelt. Along the same line is Pick Up the Pieces, a bit countryfied, yet echoing Tom Waits, is another mix of angles on the album, plunky parlour piano behind some sultry sax by Cerra riffing with Joe’s slide touch. Chicago blues makes more of an appearance in Just Cos’ You Can Don’t Mean You Should, riding on fat brass and clean licks, it clings closely to the B.B. King sound using the wah wah pedal to give the solo a bigger bite.

The redemption/salvation theme continues on numbers such as the title track, obviously, then tracks Self-Inflicted Wounds, the bluesy-rock Love is a Gamble, Stronger Now in Broken Places, a captivating acoustic ballad, highlighting the man’s sweet voice and touch.

If you’re familiar to what Guitar Magazine calls “The Reigning King of Blues-Rock
”, then this will whet your appetite for some of the best arranged-produced-played blues/rock today. Joe Bonamassa and friends deliver a record packed with solid entertaining material and excellent musicianship. If you’re not familiar with him, yet adore the guitar-shredding, wall-of-sound, heartfelt blues-rock compositions, then this is your baby. Joe Bonamassa is one big piece of what keeps this kick-ass genre alive and kicking in the “here and now”.