Dust Bowl

Joe Bonamassa

J&R Adventures, 2011


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


From the seven-minute opening force of nature “Slow Train,” Joe Bonamassa makes it clear that his tenth album will be perhaps his best yet.

The song brings all that is good about the premier blues guitarist of the 2000s; a clever chug-chug drum intro recalling a train leaving the station gives into a smoky driving blues, accentuated by soulful guitar solos backed with Rick Melick’s organ. Bonamassa has been playing a slightly lesser version of this sort of music for a decade now, but on “Slow Train” it feels vital, alive, gloriously out of step with what passes for music in 2011.

The whole of Dust Bowl builds upon last year’s Black Rock with increased emotion, a definite mood, and a hint of country influence, though nowhere near what the Woody Guthrie-inspired title might suggest. A hint of twang pops up between the words of the uniformly excellent title track, subtly enhancing Carmine Rojas’ insistent bass and Bonamassa’s vocals. The twang actually is provided by a series of Greek instruments (a “slide bouzouki”, for example), proof that the man is willing to experiment with his sound instead of falling back on clichés.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The Greek instruments appear again in the opening to “Black Lung Heartache;” as Bonamassa recorded this in Santorini, his access to these instruments likely provided the inspiration to replace what would ordinarily be played by a banjo or mandolin. The song eventually gives way to a stomping bluesy rock number. The overall effect is a wonderful marriage of styles.

Said marriage is less successful with the actual country tracks. John Hiatt appears on “Tennessee Plates” and Vince Gill on “Sweet Rowena;” both have a classicist country feel (think Waylon Jennings) that fans of the genre will appreciate, though others may find themselves skipping ahead. "Rowena" and "You Better Watch Yourself" find Bonamassa slumming in bar-band mode – not that this is a bad thing, as he and the band are clearly having a great time, but not up to the level of the better tracks here. These songs provide a relief from the more cinematic aspirations of songs like “Slow Train” and the cover of Free’s “Heartbreaker,” the latter of which benefits from a guest vocal spot by Glenn Hughes and Melick’s organ, which trades off with the guitar fills in the verses.

All Bonamassa albums have a handful of slow blues numbers, and two of the three here are stunning. “No Love On The Street” features perhaps the best solo on an album full of them, while the cover of “Prisoner” closes the album with an epic sweep that ties everything before that came together. This may sound like a criticism, but “Prisoner” sounds like a great lost Grand Funk Railroad track, along the lines of their epic “Loneliness,” albeit with more heat and heart and much better production.

It wraps up an album that not only belongs on the year’s best-of list but is among the Top 3 in Joe Bonamassa’s catalog. By drawing on various strains of roots music without being a slave to any of them, Dust Bowl is a modern blues-rock classic.

Rating: B+

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