It’s hard to imagine a time when there were no Joe Bonamassa albums. Thank God, A New Day Yesterday came along to change all that. Joe Bonamassa’s stunning debut album was proof positive to the world that blues-rock was not dead. Otherwise you might not have been so sure. After all, the last great brilliant burst in the genre exploded in the 1980s with players like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, and Jeff Healey. The golden age of the genre was obviously the mid-60s to mid-70s: the names associated with this period are legion, almost mythic, and are virtually the Greek gods of blues-rock. Alexis Korner, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Rory Gallagher, Free, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin… it just goes on and on. Though Stevie Ray Vaughan was a major throwback guitar hero during the 1980s, most guitarists were shredding a la hair metal. In the 1990s, hair metal was replaced by the first wave of grunge, then the second wave of grunge. But blues-rock was not at all a dominant force in this period. So one could be forgiven for thinking that Joe Bonamassa was a little bit of an anomaly when he burst on the scene with his album debut A New Day Yesterday. The album is both a throwback and something completely new. Without a doubt, Joe’s dominant influence is the British blues-rock that occurred during the late 60s and early 70s. This album is heavily indebted to that period of rock without question. But it also has a contemporary sense of boldness, aggression, and immediacy. Joe did, after all, live through the 80s and 90s, even if they weren’t his favorite decades musically. Something wore off, even if it was more a question of what not to do in music. Another important note is that the album is essentially split between Joe Bonamassa originals and covers of songs by his heroes.
But when push came to shove, it was a cover that won the coin toss, and the album leads off with a muscular, punchy rendition of Rory Gallagher’s “Cradle Rock”. From the blazing opening riff of Bonamassa’s cover of Gallagher, you know this album is going to be something special. “Cradle Rock” is loud, tough, and aggressive. Joe’s vocals match the energy of his guitar playing adeptly. Bonamassa’s guitar tone is clear, crunchy, taut, and could bust through a brick wall – when he wants it to. It’s also amazing to hear young Joe’s raspier voice, which sounds like it’s been through about 30 more years of screaming, gin, whiskey, cigarettes, and other vices compared with the way he sounds now. I don’t necessarily prefer one to the other, but it’s just wild to hear how different he sounded back then. Like on the rest of the album, “Cradle Rock” is composed of a power trio with Joe on the vox and guitar, and a solid rhythm section of Tony Cintron on drums and percussion and Creamo Liss on the bass. As competent as the rhythm section is, there is never a doubt for a second who the star of the album is. The first taste we get of Joe Bonamassa as a songwriter on the album is track 4, “I Know Where I Belong”. Although it’s a little bit softer edged than the previous British rock covers, there’s still plenty of blues machismo and raw power. Joe adds a liquid tone to the main riff of the song, and the song proves that he has some definite writing chops, both when it comes to music and lyrics. The track is a spectacular reminder that this is a real riff-oriented album – the best kind, in my view. For the first time on this album, Joe allows a bit of Hendrix influence to come through his playing. He cuts through with confidence, swagger. Darn right he knows where he belongs! Joe also demonstrates that even when he’s running up and down the neck of his guitar at lightning speed, he has a sharp melodic sensibility. He never loses sight of tunefulness when he’s playing, even through all of the distortion and tornado-like fury.
The most surprising track on the album might be the inclusion of a cover by the great contemporary guitarist Warren Haynes. Although Haynes has deep connections to classic blues-rock – after all, he was a member of the Allman Brothers Band for many many years – it’s very cool to hear Joe take on this kind of contemporary material. My only regret is that he didn’t recruit Warren Haynes to sing and play on the track with him. Anyone who’s seen a video of Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa playing together knows that it’s a certain kind of explosive electricity that few other combinations can match. Joe Bonamassa adds some real star power to the tune, with Gregg Allman adding his soulful crooning and smooth organ playing, and Mountain’s Leslie West adding, well, really aggressive vocals and guitar, like a torpedo. Strapped to a missile. Fired out of an exploding tornado. But for all that, the track, which is the longest on the album at almost 8 minutes, is probably the album’s best, awash in so much soul, heartfelt emotion, and extraordinary musicianship all around.
With A New Day Yesterday, Joe blasted his way onto the blues-rock scene like a raging tornado. He brought with him an explosive array of note-perfect covers and some breathtaking original songs. More than anything, he played mind-blowing guitar solos. It had been years since blues-rock had seen anything even resembling the sort of force that Joe Bonamassa revealed himself to be. It would be the start of an unbelievable career for an unforgettable musician. And to this day in 2016, countless thousands of people can’t wait to hear Joe Bonamassa’s next move.
Featured Image by John Bull