Blues of Desperation by JOE BONAMASSA — Reviewed Here

We all know that when we have blues in our hearts there is no sun …

But sometimes we need to give in to despair … if only to see where real strength can be found …

Only when we have lost all hope — and in those desperate moments — a kind of reckless frustration absorbs and surrounds us. In this state of mind we are often at our most productive — in despair we find zealous inventiveness…

Blues of Desperation - Joe Bonamassa
Blues of Desperation – Joe Bonamassa

We cannot imagine what kind of pain stimulated the world-famous New York blues rock guitarist & singer/songwriter JOE BONAMASSA to venture down to Grand Victor sound Nashville [the historic recording studio owned by Ben Folds] along with longtime buddy and Caveman producer Kevin Shirley for an intense five-day session.

The session included such prominent musicians as South African session drummer Anton Fig, percussionist Greg Morrow, Cajun blues bassist Michael Rhodes, prog-rock keyboard wizard Reese Wynans — and a sizzling selection of horn players (like Supertramp’s Lee Thornburg) along with some incredible singers such as Mahalia Barnes and Juanita Tippins … But whatever dark blues tipped Bonamassa into creating “Blues of Desperation ” we are sure that this is his most highly-flavoured, courageous and fully conscious offering yet.

If, after looking at that fine list of musicians, you are thinking that this album could maybe be a little indolent & well upholstered — perhaps even self-congratulatory and complacent — think again. These songs are rough-hewn, undernourished, hungry for affection and often emotionally insecure. Stains and bruises are all too clear. On these songs the blues are whiskey-soaked and tear-splashed.

Yes, it’s a stressful life and it’s filled with anguish. And so Bonammasa and his cracking team of Nashville tunesmiths such as country music artist James House, Grammy Award winner Tom Hambridge [Lynyrd Skynyrd] Jerry Flowers and Jeffrey Steele plus workaholic two-time Grammy winning songwriter/producer Gary Nicholson [Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings] — will want you to relate to that sense of loss — the thirst — and the state of despair.

Darker and more bituminous than a cloud of culm-dust in Fayette County mine... Live photo by Laurence Harvey
Darker and more bituminous than a cloud of culm-dust in the Fayette County mineworks… Live photo by Laurence Harvey

I want people to hear my evolution as a blues-rock musician…” Said Bonamassa, about the new album. “Somebody who isn’t resting on accomplisments and who is always pushing forward and thinking about how music can evolve and stay relevant.

The disc begins with “This Train” and with a chank of rusted and jangled iron wheels on sparkled rails. This is a driving & purposeful number and it motivates the entire album.

The riff is darker and more bituminous than a cloud of culm-dust in the Fayette County mineworks, and with that kind of ashy submetallic luster we have come to expect from Bonamassa. Backing vocals peek out from behind the fibrous notches in the sound. And the creative drums pop & punctuate the air like sizzle cakes on a griddle.

Drive” is the first video to be taken from the album — this is cleverly ambient and filled with hollowbody fruitiness and gentle groove. This is as low-slung as you can get… Sleek as a panther-cat slinking for prey.

Title track “Blues Of Desperation” has a distinctly Native American ambience with some Ghost Dance rhythms, bullfrog roars and wild turkey gobbles. This number has a coppery sheen and dark beards of guitar that trill luminescently through a blotted landscape.

For a taste of imperturbable Cotton Club charm and silkalicious saloon bar greasiness try the track “Livin’ Easy” with its fluid, syncopated rhythms, chatting piano, titilating horns and dog-tired vocals.

The album concludes with “What I’ve Known For a Very Long Time” which has a punching burst of cold-worked copper guitar and some richly heartfelt vocals.

This album has it all — temperament, strength of personality and amazing perception.

It is self-possessed, serene and sometimes oh-so sober — yet it still radiates with sunflower brightness and huge bear-claws of passion and generosity.

Highly recommended.

Words: @neilmach 2016 ©
Main Image: Live photo by Marty Moffatt
Joe Bonamassa’s new album “Blues of Desperation” is released on March 25th via Provogue