It has been 20 years since the release of Joe Bonamassa‘s best-selling album “Blues Deluxe,” which celebrated what the US government had declared “the year of the blues.” So, now is the perfect time to take stock of how far he, along with the whole world of modern blues, has come with a new album paraphrasing that landmark effort. With the release of “Blues Deluxe Vol. 2,” due out on October 6th, 2023, via Provogue, he returns to his roots, giving new life to the classic tracks that have sculptured his own artistry. On this endeavor, Bonamassa asked his friend Josh Smith to produce a record that would serve as a companion to the anniversary edition of that early landmark and, as he himself puts it, “hopefully demonstrate a bit of how I have progressed over the last 20 years,” and adding, “The contrast between a cocky 26-year-old and an established 46-year-old is considerable. Does the fire still burn like it did? Am I still playing hungry? Am I even good enough to pay tribute to my heroes all over again?” Well, the answer lies somewhere in this album – let’s give it a spin!
The new album begins with a blistering reinterpretation of Bobby “Blue” Bland‘s classic track “Twenty-Four Hour Blues.” Resonating with the genuine air of those tempestuous arias of love, betrayal, and resignation once performed by this one and only “Lion of the Blues,” Bonamassa sets the perfect mood for the outing right off the bat by cranking out every bit of his blues prowess into this rendition. Although he is probably more famous for his pristine guitar chops, this particular song also shows what a remarkable blues singer he is – he is absolutely blazing! The rumor has it that the guitar solo was played by Bonamassa lying down on the studio floor and it kind of shows. While it may seem a bit counter-intuitive to put one of the best tracks first, it begs to give it a thought: why not set things rolling with a big bang? Besides, there really aren’t weak moments in this effort.
Next up, “It’s Hard But It’s Fair,” rolls out a mellow-tempo, slightly New-Orleans-vibed – and thus, pretty damn funky! – blues riffathon originally released by Bobby Parker. For me, this is exactly the kind of music that originally got me hooked on blues after watching the gargantuan John Landis movie classic, The Blues Brothers, at the tender age of nine. The thing is – even if you did not understand a word he sings, the music would speak with such an unusual clarity and passion from the depths of the soul so that it would get right through to you and charm you. Apart from the straight-up metal styles, blues is one of those few genres that have a knack for formulating the most captivating poetic expressions of our darkest feelings – something that cannot be transmitted by layers of algorithms.
The old-school antics intensify a good few notches on “Well, I Done Got Over It,” with the song echoing the subtle air of the vintage rhythm-and-blues classic, “Fever,” originally released by Little Willie John in 1956 but made substantially more famous by Peggy Lee two years later. This vibe may have something to do with the way the guitar licks are played in unison with the delicious-sounding horn section. Bluesy riffs just have that peculiar habit of sounding awesome when you deliver them with a few choice brass instruments. The song is from the 1960s, having originally been released by Guitar Slim, a guitar legend whose style has influenced a cavalcade of other guitar luminaries from Buddy Guy and Albert Collins to Frank Zappa – and now, Joe Bonamassa.
The next couple of covers show different facets of Bonamassa‘s versatile blues delivery, with the rendition of the RONNIE EARL AND THE BROADCASTERS original, “I Want To Shout About It,” being nothing short of a feel-good blues banger, dipping toes once again in vintage R&B and featuring saxophone solo by Paulie Cerra. No doubt, this type of rave-up party bangers are excellent songs to play live on stage. Next, “Win-O” is a tad more plaintive take on the Pee Wee Crayton classic from the 1950s, featuring some sublime honky-tonky piano by Reese Wynans – and if that ain’t appropriate for a song about “drinking to the bitter end,” I don’t know what is.
Those with an acquired taste for this sort of blues grinding will find the rest of the covers no less pleasing; “Lazy Poker Blues” traverses the sonic terrain similar to Stevie Ray Vaughan‘s signature blues, which is rather peculiar since the original is actually from the 1968 album, “Mr. Wonderful,” by FLEETWOOD MAC, from the era when Peter Green was still playing in the band. Then, “You Sure Drive A Hard Bargain” is a homage to the song recorded by Albert King in the late 1960s, and “The Truth Hurts” is a rendition of the Kenny Neal original with some additional guitar backup from Josh Smith and Kirk Fletcher.
Among all these spirited cover renditions, there are a couple of original songs too. The anthemic album closer, for instance, is a new track written for Bonamassa by producer Josh Smith – but what really made me prick my ears was the track, “Hope You Realize It (Goodbye Again).” The song takes the New Orleans funk of the Bobby Parker cover and multiplies it by a hundred. Even though the song’s instrumentation is the very basic blues-rock setup – guitars, bass, and drums with some groovy Hammond organ to spice things up – we’re talking about some serious DIRTY-DOZEN-BRASS-BAND-level grooving right here! I highly recommend paying attention to the way bassist Calvin Turner drops some true-evil funk grooves on this track! That’s the icing on the cake – unless something really extraordinary and substantially more downright spectacular comes out later this year, this is THE blues album of 2023 – a powerful statement in favor of why it is way better to sing the blues than to state them plainly.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Twenty-Four Hour Blues
- It’s Hard But It’s Fair
- Well, I Done Got Over It
- I Want To Shout About It
- Hope You Realize It (Goodbye Again)
- Lazy Poker Blues
- You Sure Drive A Hard Bargain
- The Truth Hurts (feat. Kirk Fletcher and Josh Smith)
- Is It Safe To Go Home
Joe Bonamassa – vocals, guitars
Reese Wynans – keyboards
Kirk Fletcher – guitars
Calvin Turner – bass
Josh Smith – guitars
Lamar Carter – drums