Joe Bonamassa

J&R Adventures, 2018

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Topping 2016’s Blues of Desperation was going to be a monumental task, and while Joe Bonamassa’s 13th studio album doesn’t quite reach those heights, it is still a very good slab of hard blues-rock.

Redemption is the blues singer’s third album in a row of all-original material, though at this point it’s hard to tell what is original and what could be a cover, such is Bonamassa’s signature sound and thorough command of his influences. Strange as it sounds, he had yet to release a true concept album, but Redemption changes that with a song cycle about a failed relationship. It is, in essence, his breakup album, a subject without which the blues would not exist.

Because of that, there isn’t much that Joe can add at this point that millions of heartbroken, angry guys haven’t already said, so although my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Redemption has plenty of emotional heft it doesn’t really push forward. A song like “Just Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should” sounds great, augmented by horns and an excellent guitar solo, but it sounds like a song B.B. King (or one of the Kings) wrote and sang decades ago. Maybe Bonamassa needed to immerse himself in his favorite albums to make this one; certainly, in interviews for this one, he has hinted at its difficult recording process given the turmoil in his personal life.

The highlight is “Molly O,” inspired by the story of the Titanic and separate from the overarching theme that defines the bulk of the album. As the waves wash over the speakers, a pounding drum beat and snarling guitar define the verses; for the chorus, the entire band sings the title together and holds the “o” for a few beats. As he did with the story of John Henry, Bonamassa exhibits a folky knack for telling musically defining biographies that also rock. That it may remind one of Zeppelin is just icing.

On the flip side, the most heartbreaking moment is Bonamassa’s solo acoustic piece “Stronger Now In Broken Places,” probably the most nakedly vulnerable this bluesman has ever been. The moment where he near-whispers “It took all the strength I had to forgive you,” followed by a wordless repeat of the main theme augmented only by some windy keyboards, is agonizing, almost as if he was so consumed by the heartbreak he couldn’t think of anything to say next.

Opener “Evil Mama” flat-out steals the opening drum riff from Zeppelin’s “Rock And Roll” before slowing to a midtempo rocker, and for Zep fans this just sounds wrong, which is not helped by the song itself being a pretty by-the-number Bonamassa tune. “King Bee Shakedown” is better, with what sounds like a Brian Setzer Stray-Cat-Strut influence and the omnipresent horns creating a rowdy rocker that should have been the opener.

The thing with these sorts of personal statements is that they’re albums the artists need to make, so inevitably the passion and emotion will shine through on even the lesser tracks. While there may be more of those “standard” Bonamassa tracks than on his best albums, fans will still find plenty to love… and anyone who’s ever been through a tough breakup will find plenty to relate to.

Rating: B

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