Album review: JOE BONAMASSA – Redemption

JOE BONAMASSA – Redemption

Provogue Records [Release date 21.09.18]

‘Redemption’ is a loosely based concept album on which some of the songs explore the titular theme.

The dozen self penned songs track Joe Bonamassa’s musical evolution as one of the most broad based blues artists of our times.

His career so far has embraced rock, blues, soul, world music, jazz-funk and acoustic music. And the mission statement of this album seems to be to expand his rock/blues template further into related musical areas, though you suspect with producer Kevin Shirley at the helm, he will never let go of the Zeppelin fetish that has permeated much of his career so far.

‘Redemption’ is built round song-led material that leaves plenty of room for big horn arrangements and significant solos that are always an essential part of the song.

There’s a significant Nashville influence here, both in terms of the songs and their ability to crossover from one niche to another.

Then there’s the horns which provide a suitable context for his intense guitar work and expansive vocals, most notably on ‘Love Is A Gamble’. His solos resonate and he pushes his rough-hewn timbre into falsetto mode.

‘Redemption’ does it best to bring make a coherent whole of the the primacy of songs, some elaborate big band outings and the aforementioned Zeppelin influences.

All three neatly fit into Bonamassa’s contemporary take on the blues. He’s a broad church open to many related musical persuasions, as evidenced by his willingness to collaborate on songs.

He’s at his best on ‘Self-Inflicted Wound’, on which a big drum sounds acts as the scaffold for an atmospheric ballad with an imperious build. It’s full of significant bv’s and harmony guitar parts that lead to a tension busting solo, as fluid as it is evocative.

He’s positively jumping on the celebratory ‘King Bee Shakedown’, a big band boogie and swing number. The horn stabs provide the perfect foil for his slide solo over a crisp percussive track with sampled party voices.

He also adds some big toned steely licks on ‘Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should’, on which the horns sound like an unwanted luxury, while the name checked Reese Wynans’s organ solo acts as a conduit to JB’s wah wah inflected solo.

Not everything works as well, as the ‘kitchen sink and all’ approach of ‘Deep In The Blues Again’, provides plenty of bluster, but not a lot of soul. And ‘Pick Up the Pieces’ is almost an exercise in songwriting as it veers towards a sleazy, after hours, Tom Waits jazzy feel that might be better suited to Beth Hart.

In the same spirit of adventure, he goes for contrast as he pairs his tenor with Outlaw Country singer Jamey Johnson’s weathered husk. The song sounds like familiar territory until some startling picking on an uplifting solo that brings intensity and melodic emphasis.

The country feel also permeates the nicely ragged slide-led ‘Ive Got Some Mind Over What Matters’, on which he returns to his reflective central theme.

And just when you think we’ve got his stylistic measure, he draws us in further with the emotive and acoustic ‘Stronger Now In Broken Places’, which is arguably one of his best ever songs.

‘Redemption’ feels like a musical journey with familiar pit-stops, but it takes its time to wend its way through engaging musical diversions, all of which act as a catalyst for his musical spark.

The album might not quite live up to the strong unifying theme of its title, but it’s a musically ambitious work with good songs, inspired band interplay with fiery guitar work and a freshness that belies the fact that this is his 13th solo album. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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