Provogue [Release date 07.08.20]
While it’s hard not to be sceptical about a project like this – Joe Bonamassa’s relentless marketing campaign has now come full circle with this special 20th anniversary release – this remixed and re-recorded version of his milestone breakthrough album still sounds a fresh and vibrant rock-blues album, though not so the 3 bonus tracks which are out of sync with the project as a whole.
Given the original album was released about 6 times – the European breakthrough didn’t actually happen until 2005 – plus a supporting live album, there’s clearly a feeling that it’s still got some legs to warrant further exploration.
The remixed album comes with an honourable mention of the late original producer Tom Dowd, except of course with the exception of the bonus tracks, this is now a Kevin Shirley baby.
Hence the focused aggression that originally facilitated Bonamassa’s career ascent from being a high energy player – evidenced here by the frenetic cover of Rory Gallagher’s ‘Cradle Rock’ – to a more considered approach which pays attention to the arrangements, the tonal quality of his solos and the breath control of his vocals.
This is particularly so on the tough rocking ‘Headache to Heartbreak’, on which his vocals benefit from a clarity of diction and fluency.
But there’s the rub, you could argue that JB made his initial impact through the very restless, boisterous rocking style that he now seeks to smooth out.
That’s not to say the new project doesn’t pay dividends. Listen for example, to the funky fusion feel of ‘I Know Where I Belong’ on which his quavering guitar tone is underpinned by the original muscular rhythm section of Tony Cintron on drums and bassist Creamo Liss who rumble, groove and bliss out as the song demands.
No, the thing that originally made this album special in the first place was the way Bonamassa infused Brit rock blues staples such as the Ian Anderson penned Jethro Tull title track and Free’s ‘Walk In My Shadow’ with a fresh vitality and energy. Years later, he’s refined his original approach without losing the raison d’etre for the album’s original success.
Everything is viewed through more experienced eyes and maybe with a little more feel, in which he pays attention to detail, rather than simply leaning into solo after solo.
That said, he applies a sledgehammer approach to the title track, and dare I say it, his vocal isn’t quite up to the job, as he has to work hard to rise above a heavy-duty rhythm section.
My problem with this version, is that it sidelines the tension and focus of the original song, which derived its musical value from the exclamatory title, and the notion of moving on.
But what are we to make of an artist 20 years the wiser and with unparalleled success behind him, as he revisits his breakthrough album?
Well they say you should never go back, but Bonamassa has the vision, the chops and in Kevin Shirley, a producer who always brings out the best out of him.
Along with the bluster and frisson of his version of Al Cooper’s ‘Nuthin’ I Wouldn’t Do (For a Woman Like You)’ and the emotional weight he brings to bear on Warren Haynes’ “If Heartaches Were Nickels”, it’s the fact his own songs fit the album so well, and still sound strong 2 decades on, that gives this album its enduring break though status.
Years later we hear the germs of some of the ideas that would later define the artist.
If ‘I Know Where I Belong’ sets things up nicely, then the soulful ‘Miss You, Hate You’ still has that subliminal southern rock feel, and ‘Colour and Shape’ is the perfect title to evoke his lightness of touch, underpinned by a treacle like bass line and crisp percussion.
Everything comes together on the riff heavy ‘Current Situation’, into which he pours everything into his playing.
And for the die-hard fans who have already ordered the album, there’s 3 Steven Van Zant co-writes and co-produced bonus tracks.
In truth, it’s a curious way to end a retro project like this, in as much as the production is completely different to the rest of the album, as are the vocals.
There’s the dirgy opening and faux Zeppelin feel of ‘Hey Mona’ leading to a sinewy guitar break.
Then there’s a left field reading of Dylan’s ‘I Want You,’ which sounds like a homage to the CBGB New Wave era and doesn’t really work, while the closing ‘Line Of Denial, could almost be Black County Communion and you could imagine Glenn Hughes singing this.
However, it’s a bit ponderous, highlighted by the sudden tempo change and eventually overstays its welcome before a perfunctory ending.
But hey, you’ve got to speculate to accumulate and 20 years on from his breakthough album, Joe Bonamassa is still trying new things, amen to that. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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