Royal Tea

Joe Bonamassa

J&R Adventures, 2020

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Recorded at Abbey Road studios, Joe Bonamassa’s newest album pays tribute in spirit to his British blues guitarist heroes: Beck, Page, Clapton, Green. To anyone familiar with Joe’s work, this seems like kind of a strange thing to say, since it seems that not only has Joe been doing this for much of his career, but that the white British guitarists drew from the same well of blues inspiration as American guitarists…the Black artists that invented the genre.

So, essentially, this becomes another quality Joe Bonamassa album, filled with the loud, confident riffs, great solos, strong songwriting, and little tweaks (horns, a couple stray off-topic songs) that drive his best work. And make no mistake, this one belongs in the upper echelon of the man’s voluminous output, on par with The Ballad Of John Henry my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 and Blues Of Desperation for consistency and excellence.

If there’s any nod to the Brits outside of the title, it’s the opening seven-minute cut “When One Door Opens,” which arrives in a blast of horns and a stately, albeit somewhat underwhelming, prog-like opening half. Around the four-minute mark, Joe unleashes a burst of staccato and then a hard alt-rock solo that takes the song in a much better direction. It doesn’t quite cohere, but its ambition shows that Joe won’t stay in a rut, and that remains commendable.

The title cut is a loping, confident cut with an earworm background vocal hook, while “Why Does It Take So Long to Say Goodbye” is the requisite but welcome slow blues…for the first half. The song then pivots to a midtempo instrumental buildup with some Who-like overtones, a double-plucked chord helping build the tension until the release of the solo. “High Class Girl” is a faster, chunkier tune with good keyboard work and an aura of smoke. If bar bands were a thing in 2020, this would be a killer piece; as it is, we’ll wait for touring to resume someday so Joe can bust this one out mid-concert.

As great as these are, the standout cut is “Lookout Man!,” a funky, bass-heavy, harmonica-laden wad of attitude as dark as anything Joe has put to vinyl. “A Conversation With Alice” is another great track that also nods to the British conceit, sounding like it could slot into your classic rock playlist. The speedy “I Didn’t Think She Would Do It” gallops with a Zep-like “Achilles’ Last Stand” beat, keyboard and wah guitar accents, coalescing into a great song.

“Lonely Boy” injects a brief burst of energy as a fun blues romp that’s all flash and piano, a party song that won’t leave much of a mark. “Beyond The Silence” tries for an atmosphere but doesn’t quite stick in the memory like the others, while the Americana of “Savannah” seems like an afterthought when compared to the rest of the album.

But even with those two less-than-stellar cuts, Royal Tea is still simply great, bluesy enough for purists, fun enough for parties, hard rock-enough for guitar enthusiasts, and good enough to be one of the best of 2020.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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