I recently posted some of my initial thoughts on Joe Bonamassa’s 12th solo studio album, Blues of Desperation. But I really only got through half the album. Now that I’ve listened to it a whole lot more, I wanted to post about the rest of the album. In my last post, I left off with the exotic, haunting title track “Blues of Desperation”. What happens on track 6 is an abrupt shift in tone, almost a shock to the system. “The Valley Runs Low” is a breezy, nostalgic slice of pure Americana. It’s built on chiming, acoustic guitar goodness and I believe it is one of the most unique songs that Joe has recorded to this point. The backing vocals sound immaculate and the shift to the bridge is an emotional punch to the gut as Joe sings, “The days are hot / The nights are cold / It’s the chance to get it right / Before I get old”. Even though Joe describes acoustic guitars as “kryptonite” to him, he’s such a wonderful acoustic player and I regret that there isn’t a solo on this song. Not that it needs one and if anything, it might have come off as over indulgent rather than serving the song. But I can’t help it – I love acoustic Joe solos. And electric Joe solos. And all Joe solos.
“You Left Me Nothin’ But the Bill and the Blues” has a rather uptempo blues swing to it. The tone of the music is fun but the lyrics are bitter. It’s kind of an angry drinking song. The vibe is a little bit jarring after “The Valley Runs Low” and to be completely honest, so far it’s my least favorite track on the album, but I still dig it. A kickass rock solo blasts onto thee scene around 2:40 minutes into the song – it’s definitely the highlight of the track, the purest and most trenchant expression of its dripping contempt. Oh and be warned: Joe drops a bad word just as the song ends.
The next two tracks are a dynamic powerhouse and one of the best parts of the record. “Distant Lonesome Train” has immense power coursing through its veins. Once again the twin drum attack of Anton Fig and Greg Morrow elicits layers of percussive complexity and sheer strength that heightens the intensity of the kits. The tune is strongly melodic and lyrical, gripping even when Joe is merely humming along. The organ of Reese Wynans hauntingly moans. The solo makes great use of Hendrix-esque wah-wah to add to the fretboard firework supplied by the fiery Bonamassa. The solo transforms into sonic experimentation at the end, with very grungy distortion. I love it.
The dynamic opening riff of “How Deep This River Runs” sucks you into its menacing vortex immediately. All of the vocalists infuse the chorus with arresting singing while Michael Rhodes’ bassline throughout the verses becomes crucial, subtlety driving the songs overall rhythmic pulse. The solo that begins around 2:40 invokes all of the gods of the British blues explosion and quickly crescendos into one of the most epic solos Joe has recorded as a solo artist in the studio. It’s clear that producer Kevin Shirley has accomplished his mission of knocking Joe out of his comfort zone and pushing his horizons further. This song has a BIG sound and could be built to rock stadiums. The penultimate track, “Livin’ Easy“, is propelled by jazzy sax from Paulie Cerra and a light acoustic shuffle. It has a Tom Waits feel but with Joe’s smooth vocals instead of the eerie croak of Mr. Waits. This is another very unique track, with the sax rising to a fever pitch as Reese Wynans contributes barroom piano style texture. I hear this one being a fun clap-along type song live.
The album’s final song is the R&B and soul influenced “What I’ve Known for a Very Long Time” – I love this tune. It’s a brilliant, soulful conclusion to the album, richly packed with crying horns and some of Joe’s most soulful singing. I think this one’s going to be a showstopper live. Everything works gorgeously, from the writing to the arrangement to the performance itself. I can’t wait to hear this one live!
The critics at large have been wonderfully kind to Blues of Desperation, saying things such as that the album is nearly flawless and that it may even be one of the best blues-rock albums, well, ever. Amazing! I love the album too and I am so happy to have this addition to my Joe Bonamassa collection. In terms of his studio output, this one is already close to the top for me, and as I continue to listen to it and let it pour into my soul, it may even reach the very top. Thanks Joe, for working your ass off to bring your fans an incredible listening experience once again. Listening to your music continues to be an incredible journey.