Joe Bonamassa’s Royal Tea (23 October 2020; J&R Adventure/ Provogue/ Mascot) kicks off with a big cinema James Bond sound, and thereafter is as shot through with Brit influences as a piece of Brighton Rock.
Inspired by Bonamassa’s UK heroes Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton and Cream, the album was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios. Bonamassa even wears a sweatshirt with the words ‘Abbey Road’ emblazoned across it in one video, in case anyone was in any doubt where his heart lies. The Brit references continue, as the bluesman’s co-writers include Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake), Jools Holland (Squeeze), Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), and Pete Brown (Cream). As a closing homage, in the accompanying videos, one lead track heavily riffs off ‘Megxit’, while another luxuriously focuses on one of London’s most iconic images, Tower Bridge.
In recent years Bonamassa has worked extensively with Beth Hart, Walter Trout and Black Country Communion, while simultanously disparaging his own songwriting skills; but on his latest studio album he starts with a big and bold statement. Backed by a growing orchestral crescendo he launches into the seven minute 35 second long When One Door Opens, which features tasty Gibson 1960 Les Paul guitar riffs, power blues and stimulating shifts in tempo.
This is followed by the title track Royal Tea, which shines with an infectious melody, Reece Wynans’ sumputuous Hammond organ, and powerful backing vocals. Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye - the inevitable love ballad - is up next, but this cut is simply outstanding, and amply repays all of its six-and-a-half minute listening time. This blues number is then followed by some serious bad-ass rock in the shape of Lookout Man, which showcases Anton Fig’s powerful drumming and Michael Rhodes’ distorted and dirty bassline, while the inspired addition of harmonica helps make this possibly the best track on the record.
High Class Girl takes this eclectic album in a 60’s R&B and jazz direction, while A Conversation With Alice and I Didn’t Think She Would Do It again highlights Smokin’ Joe’s sublime guitar work (the latter on his Fender Strat).
The acoustic guitar and cowboy feel of Beyond The Silence makes it another standout track. Lonely Boy, on the other hand, is like a big band jive in the mould of Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock, which Jools Holland takes advantage of to brand with his distinctive piano style. The album closes with the acoustic-driven and country-tinged Savannah, which takes us away from the Brit theme, but is perhaps Bonamassa saying to anyone who seeks to categorise him: ‘don’t get too comfortable; because you’ll only get the unexpected from me!’
The bluesman’s long-time collaborator Kevin Shirley was again on production duties for Royal Tea, and he makes a particularly fine job of it, as the album is full of energy and diverse surprises. Bonamassa has decided to go ‘big on Britain’ on his latest offering, and the result is a beautiful collection of songs that will enchant and enthuse both fans and newcomers alike.