Blues Of Desperation

Joe Bonamassa

J&R Adventures, 2016

http://jbonamassa.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/16/2016

Nowhere near as bleak as its album title would suggest, Blues Of Desperation finds Joe Bonamassa bringing down the house with his signature loud virtuosic blues/hard rock/soul style.

The man is prolific, releasing a studio album pretty much every year; during years that he doesn’t have one, he releases either a live disc or a collaboration disc, usually with Beth Hart. The upshot is that Bonamassa is one of the great guitar players of his generation. The down side is that, with so much music coming out each year, mundane or run-of-the-mill songs frequently make it onto his albums, keeping them from reaching classic status.

But Blues Of Desperation fares much better. Rock solid from start to finish, it’s Bonamassa’s best complete album in a long while, featuring some of his best songs in years and a meaty, in-your-face production that pushes the songs to even greater heights. Dude could play this album in its entirety at his next concert and you wouldn’t need to hear any other songs, such is the manner in which it consolidates Joe’s strengths as a singer, songwriter, guitar player, rocker, and general ego-free ass-kicker.

Gutsy and bold, the album was recorded in five days – which is as long as it takes some progressive rock bands to tune up – but it’s evident that everybody involved lived in the studio for that week polishing and perfecting this, then cranking up the volume on the final product. Although it’s a frequent comparison, few Bonamassa efforts recall Led Zeppelin as much as this one; that band’s sound and approach heavily influence the title track, “Mountain Climbing,” and especially “No Good Place For The Lonely,” which updates the songwriting structure and feel of “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You” for a new era, complete with liquid lava guitar solos.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Those solos are all over this disc, of course, not to show off but not terribly subtle either. Bonamassa is reinforcing his hard rock side and his virtuosity and having a hell of a time doing it. Witness how “This Train” rampages out of the gate, its momentum barely held in check with the occasional piano break, with longtime drummer Anton Fig driving the track forward like its titular vehicle and daring everyone else to keep up. On “Mountain Climbing,” Fig pounds his drums with Bonham-esque vigor and purpose.  Meanwhile, Bonamassa turns in chunky riffs that give way to a descending pre-chorus and a melodic chorus a bit at odds with the song, but which complements the testosterone of the chorus nicely.

“Blues Of Desperation” owes the most to Jimmy Page in its guitar riffs, but the song’s several sections also recall the Rolling Stones and early ZZ Top, neatly tied together with a vague Eastern-sounding string figure in the background and a playful wah guitar between the sections that reminds one of Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good.” There’s a lot going on here, but Bonamassa and his crew make it work, and it’s a heck of a song.

The arresting, hypnotic “Drive” slows things down a bit, while “What I’ve Known For A Very Long Time” is a fairly standard slow blues album closer, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. “Distant Lonesome Train,” the second train song on the disc, makes the bold step to tone down the guitars in the verses in favor of Fig’s drums as the key driver, all the better to ratchet up the tension for when Bonamassa’s guitar explodes in the chorus and, eventually, the fiery, lengthy guitar solo. “How Deep This River Runs” matches and increases the drama in its deliberate pace, drawing in the listener so that the solo feels heroic when it finally comes.

Only “The Valley Runs Low” fails to generate any kind of real emotion, choosing a happier vibe, and fans likely will be mixed on the success of “Livin’ Easy,” a jaunty New Orleans tune at odds with the rest of the disc but one that’s fun all the same. After the bulk of the disc, a little levity is earned, especially because “…Long Time” closes things out properly.

Blues Of Desperation is not only one of Bonamassa’s best albums to date, but one of the best rock albums of the year.

Rating: A

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