Within “Shades of Blue,” the latest release by stringmaster Joe Bonamassa, there is a wonderfully woven tapestry of sound, correlating succinctly with the overall quality of the music and the history of the artist.
As many know, Bonamassa opened for BB King at age 12. He is now 37 and continuing to craft fantastic melodies with his guitar after eleven studio album, all of them released on J&R Records, his own label. “Shades of Blue” clearly displays the work ethic expected from this musician, and it is tempered with the vintage blues sound that comes only from experience.
The opening cut is a shot out of the gate, but also a cool drink of water. “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” is an excellent introduction to the album, working well as a piece that can stand alone in terms of its musicality but also providing a great segway into the vocals-initiated “Oh Beautiful!.” The way that th
is song comes off is as a meditation on great rock riffage, a place one might go to to become whole for other musical endeavors. The guitar work here sets the precedent for the whole record with an entire minute dedicated to solo work that greases the musical gears for the rest of the tracks.
“Love Ain’t a Love Song” is very much, other than the title track, the radio darling here, with a well-planned chorus springing up from the verse like blues cactus in the desert. However, this also features, as does every cut, some very interesting solo time as well, bringing the possible justification for the track into clearer focus. This song also makes sense when paired next to “So, What Would I Do,” a piano and voice driven piece that makes thoroughly apparent Bonamassa’s claim to songwriting fame as well as renown on the guitar neck, with any riffage an addendum and not a focal point. While this is true, the lyrics are just shy of an entirely powerful track, though this is very much a force to be reckoned with.
“Living On The Moon” is the personal favorite. This song makes me want to stomp around about some woman somewhere who left, swinging my arms in the air guitar needed here. This is the apex of power in the album, the place where things culminate in fire, translating into explosion with sounds emanating from Bonamassa’s guitar in a sequence I have never heard before. “Heartache Follows Wherever I Go” slings the album into the low groove of blues-rock and, while not the strongest lyrically, it helps to bring the album together with a pace that references the artist’s experience in music in general.
More of a call and response position is taken on “Never Give All Your Heart” when it comes to guitar and vocals relationship, and this is a refreshing take especially as the flow transitions into the solo, which is a powerful build based much more on diversity of notes than it is on the necessary speed.
“I Gave Up Everything for You ‘Cept the Blues” is a combination of humor and the most powerful vocal performance on the album, eliciting the type of fight one expects in the black music this album is rooted in. Another personal favorite of this reviewer, it is a track that relies somewhat on the typical musical chord progressions of the blues, but Bonamassa puts a very worthwhile spin on it, especially in the slinky, funky and slappy (that’s the only way I know to describe it) solo at 3:00.
“Different Shades of Blue” seems a great deal like a particular Eagles song that will remain obvious yet unstated, but whether or not that is intentional is not relevant. The best lyrical writing is here, and it works interestingly with the radio presence this song is sure to have.
“Get Back My Tomorrow” is the third personal favorite here and for a reason: from the lead few seconds this song is different. It speaks much more bite and venom than the rest, and it helps to get back a bit of the voracity lost in “Different Shades of Blue.”
“Trouble Town” is a piece of great and interesting creative manifestation where horns, strings, and guitars coalesce, injecting the swing into the blues, making the ending to “Shades of Blue” a fun ride for sure and a great closeout to a very solid album.
The only pitfalls to this record are the fairly repetitive song structures that the musician is confined in and the lack of lyrical diversity or experimentation. It’s there for sure in tracks like “Get Back My Tomorrow” and “Living On The Moon,” but you are left wanting much more than the album provides you in that area.
Overall, however, the work here is truly great. It is a masterful piece of guitar work with songwriting to go along solidly with it.