Welcome back to the second part of our retrospective on Joe’s latest – and maybe even greatest- studio album, Different Shades of Blue. In case you missed it, you can read the first part of this article here. This week I wanted to begin by discussing the title track. You have to be careful with title tracks. If you’re going to name your album after a song, it better be one with a great title and it better be an even better song because you are pinning the theme of your whole album on it. Picking a song to name the album after is making a claim that this particular song distills the essence of what the album is all about. At least I think so.
In the case of Different Shades of Blue, Joe really nailed it. The title points to the diversity present within the unity of the album, and it does so in a couple of different senses. First, this is the blues after all, and the blues so often refers to the feeling of sadness or emotional pain. Even in some of the song titles, we hear a variety of different ways of describing the experience of sadness, pain, loss and the troubles of life and love. “Heartache Follows Wherever I Go,” “I Gave Up Everything For You, ‘Cept the Blues” and “Trouble Town” probably being the best examples of this. This whole collection of songs gives a glimpse into the different modes in which feeling blue or “having got the blues” can be deeply felt and musically expressed.
But “Different Shades of Blue” also refers to the different styles and forms of blues that Joe plays, from the soulful R&B emotion of “So, What Would I Do” to the power blues booty-shaker “Love Ain’t a Love Song.” And we all know that Joe really runs the gamut from the deepest pure country blues to the heaviest blues-rock: he does it all. The title of the album perfectly captures this.
Regarding the song itself, there are a couple of things I love about this particular track. One is the amazing acoustic riff which opens the song and which is one of the most memorable rhythm guitar parts on the album. I also find Reese Wynans’ organ to fill out the texture gorgeously on this one. “Different Shades of Blue” is an all-around excellent track and absolutely worthy of its title track status.
On another note, it’s funny how things can change over the course of an entire year. When the album first came out, my least favorite track on the record was “Living On the Moon.” I didn’t think it was bad, I just couldn’t really get so into it. Now? Totally love it. Everything, the beat, the horns, the bridge. What changed? I guess I did. Some songs take time to grow on me. But now I can’t wait to get home and listen to the live version from Live at Radio City Music Hall! All weekend long, probably.
Speaking of least favorite songs, I was surprised when I was reading an interview with Joe Bonamassa in Blues Matters magazine and he identified “Get Back My Tomorrow” as his least favorite tune on Different Shades of Blue. After acknowledging that “everyone likes that song,” Joe retorts back, “I don’t know why. My least favorite… on the record is that one.”
So I started spinning the track over and over again, trying to identify the flaws. Like Sherlock with his magnifying glass, I’m on the case, looking for the bloody fingerprints. What could it be? Plodding tempo? Shoddy lyrics? A flat-lining guitar solo? Certainly there must be something. But each time I play the track, I am immediately sucked in by its all-encompassing charm. “What goes around, comes back around,” I’m singing along without even noticing at first. The toe-tapping beat. The funky, driving riff. And of course, the playful, bouncing solo. Nope. Can’t find it. Nothing wrong. In fact, more I play it, the more firmly I’m convinced that it’s fantastic cut. So I’m intrigued: what is it that Joe doesn’t find as compelling as the other cuts here? I’d love to hear more of his thoughts about the track. Maybe sometime I’ll get a chance to ask him on the new Bona-Scope feature…
So what about favorites? My initial favorites were “Oh Beautiful!” and “Love Ain’t a Love Song” which are two fantastic pieces of work, and I appreciate them even more after hearing them live. However, they have some rivals for my affection now. “Different Shades of Blue” is all kinds of amazing. And one that might have skyrocketed its way to the top for me is “Never Give All Your Heart,” which is just brimming with deep emotion, buried pain, and the dire effects of repression. Oh, and that badass guitar solo doesn’t hurt either.
Certainly, a lot has happened in the world of Joe Bonamassa since Different Shades of Blue was released. There was, of course, the incredible Radio City Music Hall shows which are now, happily, going to be preserved forever on the upcoming release Live at Radio City Music Hall. We saw the release of the wonderful Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks CD/DVD, the first time Joe’s released an entire album / live show dedicated to the music of a particular set of artists. It’s an awesome tribute, and as a fan of both Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and Chicago blues in general, this was a special treat. Then, of course, in the spirit of that show, Joe embarked on the U.S. summer tour, stopping by some of the great amphitheatres in the country and bringing them one hell of a smokin’ pure blues show.
And we still have some great stuff to look forward to before the year is out! We have the fall tours in Europe and the U.S.A. which are going to be great. From what Joe has said, it’s going to be a really nice blend of material from his own catalog and traditional covers, plus some Muddy Wolf and songs from this summer, which is great for those people who didn’t get a chance to hit those shows. I’m especially looking forward to hearing more Bonamassa originals again, I’m itching for it. And of course we have Live at Radio City Music Hall – out today!! so we all know what I’ll be doing in my free time this weekend and next week. And who knows what else Joe might have on the horizon… but I, for one, can’t wait to find out!
– Brian R.