Album release day!!!! There are few things in this world as great as album release day. That day when one of your favorite artists releases a BRAND NEW STUDIO ALBUM!!! And today is the release day of Joe Bonamassa’s long-awaited, highly anticipated follow up to his #1 Billboard Blues album Different Shades of Blue, called Blues of Desperation. So let me just say that I LOVE what I had already heard of the album, which included a few full songs and a bunch of snippets of others. So I had a feeling that what was to come was going to be something new, explosive and supremely potent. And I haven’t been disappointed! Frankly, I thought Different Shades was going to be a tough act to follow, because it is. But Joe has truly transcended himself here, delivering a knock-out punch of an album that surprises and elates at every twist and turn.
I trusted Kevin Shirley, Joe’s longtime producer, when he decided to add a second drummer to the mix to “ruffle Joe’s feathers” as he says. But I didn’t know what to expect from that. But right from the get go with “This Train” you can hear the magic of the effect: the drumming sounds HUGE, wildly explosive, and emphasizing that this is blues-ROCK! The song comes barreling through the wall at full speed and I love its aggressive, steel-tipped edginess. Joe says to play this album LOUD and you can hear why – the beat and groove is positively infectious, with Joe’s vocals echoing into infinity while former Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble keys man Reese Wynans puts the hammer to the keys and lays down waves of colorful texture. But this song is all about power and culminates in Joe’s muscular solo that seems to reverberate everywhere. “This train is coming and going / This train ain’t never coming back” Joe assures us, and one can infer that the intended effect is that Joe’s music has taken off like a rocket into news blues-rock territory, shattering anything resembling solid boundaries and playing the music however he damn well feels. And that’s a trip I’m very happy to join him on!
“Mountain Climbing” is the album’s most instantaneously catchy rock-anthem with its iron-clad riff and its turbulently descending pre-chorus that just begs you to sing or even almost yell along. “Mountain Climbing / It’s troubles I’ve got ’em / Mountain climbing / It’s blues at the bottom”. I love how you can take the meaning of this song in so many ways, but one definite way to interpret this instant classic is as if it’s about the blues themselves, its tortured beginnings in pain and desperation but its transcendence of that suffering into the highest art, eminently moving and meaningful. That backup singers, Mahalia Barnes, Jade McRae and Juanita Tippins, do a gorgeous job of echoing Joe’s vocals to weave a tapestry of intense, thick as a brick sound that smashes through rock and metal.
And then suddenly the album cuts into “Drive” and its like the dancing atoms have swerved. The sound is suddenly SO different, and yet the flow is remarkable. The song on the album truly hang together and complement each other through diversity and plurality that remains unified by some well-trodden blues tropes that make it all work masterfully. To me, without a doubt “Drive” is one of the sexiest songs that Joe has ever written and recorded. Listening to it, I just can see the car winding around on the shimmering pavement with the twinkling lights of urban majesty and starry skies behind him and his companion. This is a song for driving, and maybe some other activities too. Joe’s solo sizzles like a steamy city dream haze, and the quiet harmonies of the backup singers add an extra splash of seduction, along with Nashville’s bass master Michael Rhodes’ hypnotically enticing groove.
As I’m re-listening to this album and “No Good Place For the Lonely” came on with its shattering blues riff and Joe’s impassioned vocal please, it just struck me that it’s time that the world acknowledge how much Joe has evolved as a songwriter. His writing now is so cool, so sophisticated, and it really is so wonderful that he’s producing so many original songs now. This is a trend that I hope continues. Back to the song itself, it features a heart-shattering rhythm and blues riff and impassioned vocals from Joe as he sings, “I keep searching this world / For someone to hold me / Like you used to hold me / But there’s no good place for the lonely” – and anyone who’s ever felt down and out about being alone knows that feeling – but Joe’s singing comes from such an authentic, honest place. The solo smokes with passionate cries for mercy from above and for an ease to heal the aching heart. The licks are searing and border on a freak-out of notes and pure emotion. As the album’s longest track, it’s also one of its finest moments – maybe one of Joe’s finest studio moments ever (though so many come to mind).
The album’s title track, “Blues of Desperation” begins with an exotic world-music flair that could fit into the world of Peter Gabriel and Daniel Lanois before breaking through with another power-riff that really kicks up the dirt. The melodic, instrumental bridge soars with a jangly groove that gives way to a more eastern influenced edge again. “Maybe its the devil doing this to me / Open up the door to divine misery / Hear the wolves howling at my door / One more last time don’t come back no more” and then Joe’s solo takes a starkly, chillingly avant-garde turn that’s all at once destabilizing, mystifying, and hauntingly beautiful. The notes slide and dazzle, drenched and dripping with ache and longing and anger and almost an intoxicated madness before returning to the cathartic bridge melody. Outstanding, Joe Bonamassa, truly outstanding.
I’ll let you tour the rest of the album yourself, but suffice it to say that Joe knocked a Ruthian grand slam effort out of the ballpark with this one. Blues of Desperation is destined to become a contemporary classic of its genre and, who knows, maybe someday it will be appreciated well beyond those confines. It should be, for Joe’s music doesn’t toe the party line, but hurtles into the unknown like a star cruiser seeking new frontiers of exploration. For whatever it’s worth, you get five stars from me Joe, an enthusiastic standing ovation, many Bravos and shouts for an encore. Blues of Desperation may just be Joe’s greatest masterpiece yet.