Provogue Records [Release date 10.04.20]
The Sleep Eazys ‘Easy To Buy, Hard To Sell’ is a Joe Bonamassa’s instrumental side project that ostensibly pays homage to the late guitarist Danny Gatton. It also reflects his own ability to confidently swap genres.
But while there’s no denying the band’s playing ability, the album lacks coherence and flow due in the main to poor sequencing and songs that sometimes feel mutually exclusive rather than the natural part of an album as a whole.
Back in New York in 1994 a stellar line-up of guitarists featuring the likes of Les Paul, James Burton and Albert Lee did their best to generate funds for the late Danny Gatton’s widow.
The supremely talented guitarist embraced many styles of music before he sadly committed suicide to leave the planet as probably the “greatest unknown guitarist in the world”, an irony that continues to be shared by die-hard fans and fellow six stringers such as Joe Bonamassa who knew just how good he was.
Joe Bonamassa jammed with Danny Gatton when still very young and takes up the mantle to showcase Gatton’s influence at the centre of a wide ranging instrumental album that plays to his own band member’s strengths.
If Gatton’s musical span encapsulated Americana, rockabilly, jazz, blues and country -with occasional Zappa influences – this album draws together a similar wide ranging array of music which would surely have made Gatton quietly smile.
But there’s a significant gap between theory and practice, which is less to do with the excellent playing on the album, as the fact the project seems veer off topic with movie themes that might be fun to play and revisit, but don’t necessarily feel as if their belong on the same album.
As a result ‘Easy To Buy, Hard To Sell’ is a digital generation friendly album, from which you might pick particular tracks, but not always revisit the album as a whole.
It all starts positively with a cover of Gatton’s ‘Funhouse’, which is a suitable title for a song by a guitarist who used to effortlessly work his way through different musical styles, albeit with an unspoken penchant for jazz..
Bonamassa’s version transforms Gatton’s funky Latino original into an exaggerated shuffle, on which the horns take precedence on a full band arrangement.
Curiously his own solos are well back in the mix, suggesting he wants to pay respect to the song, as he takes his place between organ sweeps wailing horns.
The Gary Burton style vibes on Hank Ballard’s ‘Move’ gives the piece a Zappa feel, while the intricate guitar parts reach back to the days of Charlie Christian and Tal Farlow.
It’s a jazzy piece you could imagine Danny Gatton enjoying and The Sleep Eazys do it justice with a flighty arrangement full of breezy double lines, and some nifty picking on an uplifting ensemble piece.
Given what’s gone before the rockabilly twang of Link Wray’s ‘Ace Of Spades’ feels like a celebratory cathartic release and again pays indirect home to Gatton’s love of rockabilly, as part of his wide ranging musical influences.
If the above works well within the context of the album, the cover of Jimmy Bryant’s ‘Ha-So’ is less successful. Bonamassa generates some crisp picking, but the track feels like an out of context filler.
You could argue the album loses its focus on the TV theme tune ‘Hawaiian Eye’ – all Farfisa, percussion and horn riffs – and the lead single ‘Bond (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)’, both of which are tongue in cheek homage’s to a big screen era on which musical themes were an integral part of the movie soundtrack.
The band generates an imposing rumble on the latter as they work towards a big guitar and a crunching bass line resolution, but I’m not sure if JB fans will really go for this?
And having filled the album with a succession of movie themes, they further transform the originally swampy feel of Tony Joe White’s ‘Polk Salad Annie’ into a another horn and bv-led faux big screen arrangement, albeit with an unexpected splendid harp burst, more horn fills and bv’s that leads to a sinewy solo from Joe.
It all just about works as the concluding part of three movie theme pieces, which makes the sharply contrasting sultry after hours feel of King Curtis’s ‘Harlem Nocturne’ sound as if it might be the closing track.
The latter owes much to one of Gatton’s former mentor Roy Buchanan, as Bonamassa and keyboard player Reese Wyans player are in their element.
The closing ‘It Was A Very Good Year’ adds little to what’s gone before, save for a some neat acoustic over synth pulses on a lush arrangement that again might fit a movie theme, though the sudden ending feels like they have all had enough.
The standard of playing on this album is both exemplary and convincing, but a combination of scattergun sequencing and poor song choice doesn’t make for a particular satisfying album as a whole.
I can’t remember Danny Gatton having any particular interest in movie themes, but then again he was open to any musical possibilities. Perhaps the sheer variety of the material here makes a case for JB to have the license to skip genres to find new inspiration for his guitar playing? ***
Review by Pete Feenstra
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