A New Day Yesterday
It’s hard for me to believe there was actually a time before there were Joe Bonamassa albums. A time before cell phones? Sure. The internet? Of course. But a time that pre-dates Joe Bonamassa albums? Crazy.
But before the release of A New Day Yesterday, Joe Bonamassa’s debut record, this was the way things were.
Blues Rock Is Dead…
Before Joe released A New Day Yesterday, you could argue that blues rock was in a dismal state. The 1980’s saw a renaissance in blues rock, with artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble and Robert Cray’s Band getting air time on networks like MTV alongside legends like Eric Clapton. Sure, the mainstream world was dominated by glam hair bands and synth-heavy new wave grooves. But SRV and Cray and Jeff Healey were still making blues waves on television and radio. Things were good for blues rock.
Then the 90’s happened.
Nirvana single-handedly ended the hair band reign of the 1980’s and replaced it with a sludgy, vitriolic, nihilistic grunge music that became the stuff of musical legend. Another casualty of grunge was the blues. Blues rock, with its epic guitar solos and love-lorn emotional core just didn’t resonate anymore with the flannel and unkempt hair loving youth.
Blues rock, indeed, seemed dead.
Long Live Blues Rock
But thanks to Joe Bonamassa’s debut album A New Day Yesterday, blues rock was soon to experience a resurgence.
When Joe burst onto the scene with his new record he ushered in a new era of blues rock guitar heroism. A New Day Yesterday is a throwback to the heyday of blues rock dominance from the 1960’s and ’70s with its Claptons, Becks, and Pages. But it was also something entirely new. It boasts a cutting, gritty, aggressive tone that could only have been possible with another few decades of hard rock seasoning built upon its psychedelic blues foundations.
A New Day Yesterday certainly stands the test of time as an album. To this day it is one of my favorite Bonamassa albums. The record leads off with a grand, muscular and feisty rendition of the great Irish bluesman Rory Gallagher’s tune “Cradle Rock”. The blazing opening riff is the perfect way for Joe to kick off the album and usher in a new era of blues rock.
And then there’s the guitar. Lord, the guitar. The tone is clear, crunchy, full of metal (not the heavy kind), and could burst through a brick wall like the old Kool Aid man.
It’s also amazing now, 17 years later, to go back and listen to the tone of the young Bonamassa’s vocals. His voice was much raspier – it sounds almost like it had been through an additional 30 years of screaming, whiskey shots, and cigarettes.
But none of that is true – it’s just that Joe was still learning to find his voice. The Joe Bonamassa of today has lost most of the rasp but replaced it with a cherubic, deeply resonant tenor. It is still surprising to me how it can soar on the high notes. Both versions of Joe’s voice are powerfully effective – just different. I imagine, though, that his current vocal methodology is a bit healthier on the Joe’s vocal chords. And for that, I am grateful.
The Songs of A New Day Yesterday
A New Day Yesterday, like the albums of Cream or Led Zeppelin, is a power trio album through and through. It’s composed of Joe on the vocals and guitars, Tony Cintron on drums and percussion along with Creamo Liss on the bass. The rhythm section holds its own with aplomb, but there’s no doubt that Joe, having left the fledgling rock band Bloodline, was putting out a solo record.
The album is filled with quite a few covers in addition to the previously mentioned Rory Gallagher tune. Included is the Jethro Tull-penned title track. But we also get an early taste of Joe Bonamassa the blues songwriter here. “I Know Where I Belong” features plenty of guitar machismo and raw power. Joe is not yet the self-assured writer he would be several albums down the line, but he’s starting off on the right foot.
On “I Know Where I Belong”, Joe adds some liquid finish to his guitar tone on the song’s main riff. It’s also evident that Joe pays attention not just to guitar riffing but to his lyrics as well. On many occasions, Joe has opined that a solo without a great song is rather meaningless. Joe does not make that amateur mistake here and goes right in for the kill on all songwriting fronts.
Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist
Joe’s songwriting is also a brilliant reminder that this is a riff-rock oriented album. There’s plenty of homage paid to the British blues greats – lots of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck to go around – and there’s some Jimi Hendrix present here too. But really, what guitarist since 1967 hasn’t been somehow touched by Hendrix?
But Joe is no retread, and he finds his guitar voice quickly and with conviction, cutting through the mix with confidence and swagger. And even when Joe’s shredding to the max, he does so in a way that’s always highly melodic, never losing sight of the harmonic textures of the songs. A Joe solo, though improvised, could usually work just as well as a composed piece. Call him anything you want, but he’s no endless noodler. He takes a solo with a mission. To kill it.
We’ve Only Just Begun
The most surprising moment on the album is the inclusion of a cover of “If Heartaches were Nickles” by the wonderful contemporary guitarist Warren Haynes. Haynes’s blues rock connections run deep as well. He was a member of The Allman Brothers Band along with fellow blues guitarist Derek Trucks for many years. Warren’s own blues rock outfit, Gov’t Mule, has also been highly successful.
“If Heartaches Were Nickles” is a special moment on an album where Joe really proved that he belonged in the same world as the creme de la creme of guitar playing. The track itself is the album’s best, clocking in at almost 8 minutes. It’s awash in so much soul, heartfelt emotion, and extraordinary musicianship its hard to believe it can all fit on one little compact disc.
A New Day Yesterday, though not Joe’s most commercially successful album, made a huge statement. Joe Bonamassa was the new guitar slinger in town. He was going to be able to keep up with anyone. And I mean anyone.
But it wasn’t just the introduction to the world of Blues Rock Titan Joe Bonamassa. It was an announcement that amazing guitar playing was back in business.
Blues rock was back. Authentic, meaningful music was back. And it was back to stay.
Blues rock dead? Nah. Long live blues rock.
– J&R Adventures