• Production
  • Melody / Hooks
  • Innovation
  • Arrangement
  • Genius

Driving Towards Daylight – Joe Bonamassa

Bonamassa’s 13th album sees him delivering a slew of covers and if you read the customer reviews on Amazon then Joe Bonamassa is definitely getting everything right – people are lapping it up. Hailed as the new guitar wunderkind Joe Bonamassa has got what they call the “chops”. But that doesn’t mean a thing – what do “they” know?

Nothing?….

And… is it really any good, because “chops” are only “chops” – On some days the chops are chicken soup, and, on some days the chops are chicken shit. SO lets find out what day is it today?

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Return to the Blues

Apparently this album marks a ‘return’ to “the blues” for Joe Bonamassa but that depends upon exactly what your definition of the blues is. If you enjoy a rocked up version of the blues – somewhere between Foreigner and a faded photocopy of Paul Kossoff’s Free together with a bucketful of “chops” then your ride is here.

Blues by Numbers

From the start there is a polished sophistication on this Bonamassa album – all the edges have been knocked off – the whole shebang feels a little bit “paint by numbers” and when Bonamassa sings “all I need is my old guitar and I’ll play you the best damn blues” I feel like crying. By the time he sings “thirty five years ago I was born on Robert Johnson’s”,  I’m sitting in a puddle of cliche.

A bit tired and predictable, unless you really enjoy a waltz through the lyrical cliches of the blues landscape, the track features “bring it down” set pieces, then….wait for it….here comes the guitar. The second solo is delivered with some guts, but, it still has a very muddy, second hand flavour of Eric Johnson.

Robert Johnson

“Stones in My Passway” is an unforgiving and very difficult Robert Johnson classic – the original has a certain mystical quality that will probably never be equalled. So…the half time honky tonk is uncomfortable – this is territory that the Black Crowes own – and Joe’s band feel methodical & sluggish. Joe breaks out the slide before “Driving towards Daylight” whilst he’s also unsurprisingly “waiting for a train” and for “destiny”.

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Driving towards Daylight

The title track is more M.O.R., heartbroken, love sick ballad, than anything – it’s catchy, and radio friendly – before a minute is out, I can almost imagine the climactic solo. It isn’t so bad because the “rusty strings” on his “old guitar” don’t stop him from raiding Paul Kossoff’s coffin.

“Who’s been Talking” uses the canned voice of Howlin’ Wolf as an introduction to the Wolf’s classic. That’s one way to sample authenticity but it’s alright – because it sounds a bit like early Fleetwood Mac.

“I got all you need” is the S.R.V., Texas blues style track that puts a bit of a groovy shuffle into this disc. It’s so hard to tell when Joe is actually being himself, but this track is probably the sweet spot on the album – Bonamassa finally cools his guitar playing down a little, stops running scales and plays with some taste.

“A place in my heart” moves us very quickly into the Joe plays Gary Moore playing Roy Buchannan territory with a Bernie Marsden (White Snake) cover. Like Gary Moore’s blues playing, the formula is simple – quiet verse / big chorus / huge guitar melody / massive solo.

The first guitar solo is overcooked – lots of “chops” and at over a minute twenty, self indulgent and blushing with competence. The aura of fragility of Marsden’s original is lost until after about five minutes Joe pulls in the reins and we’re finally treated to some genuinely tasty guitar playing, with plenty of space; vaguely reminiscent of the ever so tasteful Mick Taylor.

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Less chops – More soul

“Lonely Town Lonely Street” proves exactly why fat, modern guitar tones have a place – but not here. Dropping Hendrix motifs straight into the mix doesn’t really cure anything but Joe comes back with some ultra-modern, echo guitar; it’s all pretty cool, thank you Mr. Steve Hunter. There’s some great wha-wha talk with the keyboard but using this Withers track as a guitar style encyclopedia makes it all pointless and, overwrought.

“Heavenly Soul” is the second Bonamassa penned song on this disc. It is a fairly nondescript song; but the guitar work has a great country flavour and energy, he must have been thinking about Albert Lee. Tom Waits’ “New Coat of Paint” is a fantastic song, but the paint is peeling away beneath the weight of more heavy guitar licks – overplaying the guitar really suffocates the song.

Great Slide Guitar

“Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go” – begins with some great sounding slide – chiming, and warm, and a feel pinched straight from ZZ top. There are a couple of spectacular slide riffs in there. Joe’s solo on this number is probably the most melodic and refreshing – probably the most enjoyable and the best on the album. Jimmy Barnes sings on the last track – it is pure, slow burning fromage – which is nothing more than cheese – awful.

Joe Bonamassa – hot guitar player

Joe Bonamassa IS a hot guitar player – but with everything sounding so second-hand where exactly does his originality lie? If you are a Joe Bonamassa fan then you’ll love it , but despite all his guitar prowess this one leaves me cold – technique is no substitute for feel, and this record feels soulless, dull and contrived. There is style, and, there is substance, there are chops, and there is soul. None of these are intended to be mutually exclusive.

The Verdict – Good, bad or just ugly?

Bonamassa’s ability and his identity are lost here. Robin Trower made a similarly structured album back in 1990, twenty two years ago -  “In the Line of Fire” – except it’s much, much more accomplised – check it out on spotify here.

This Bonamassa album gets the “Angel Eyes” verdict – bad. We’re not digging.

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