29th October 2020:
I have often shared clips from Joe Bonamassa; after all, he has been one of the leading names in the Guitar Blues world for the last two decades. Including his live recordings, collaborations and solo studio work, Joe has released 45 albums in this time, a remarkable body of work. I received the heads-up that he released a new album, ‘Royal Tea’, earlier this month. I took a listen and have chosen three tracks for the guitar blues fans among us.
Joe Bonamassa is known for his fretboard wizardry and jaw-dropping lead solos that grace many of his compositions. ‘Royal Tea’ sees a bit of a departure from the norm with a more restrained feel than previous albums, and it works.
It is no secret that Joe’s big love is early British blues, and for this album he chose to test his theory that you can make an album sound like it was authentically borne of a specific place by immersing yourself in that environment through every stage of writing and recording. This saw his move to London for five weeks earlier this year and set up in the iconic Abbey Road Studios to write and record Royal Tea.
I’m going to start today with the title track ‘Royal Tea’. It’s not my favourite on the album, I’m saving that for last, but I think the Guitar.com website says it best “The bluesy stomp of the title track is coherent, complete with catchy cooed refrain from backing vocalists Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins, it’s an exercise in ‘just enough’ guitar from Joe – condensing and editing himself to brief solo interludes that lay on the dramatic searing bends without ever overplaying”. What they didn’t mention was Reese Wynan’s Hammond organ that adds an added layer of beauty to the song.
When Joe Bonamassa decided on his London base he called on the help of a few friends to help immerse him even further into the British music traditions. The following names will give you an idea of the quality you can expect from ‘Royal Tea’.
Old friend Bernie Marsden of Whitesnake fame and lyricist for Cream, Pete Brown, brought their platinum-selling songwriting skills to the table. Eurythmics legend Dave Stewart and internationally acclaimed Jools Holland added keyboard talents. This prestigious team joined Joe’s regular band of Anton Fig (drums), Michael Rhodes (bass), Reese Wynan (Hammond Guru), and mix maestro Kevin Shirley behind the desk. I can’t think of better company to hang around with!
What ensued is five weeks of intense working and a sharing of fun and comradery between a rare combination of creative talent. The resulting album is a testament to them all. The second song I’ve chosen for today is ‘Lookout Man’. It is a big production of a song and Fig’s drums drive the number perfectly, while Anton Rhodes shines with his sludgy bass riff. Enjoy.
‘Royal Tea’ has a freshness about it, which is partly due to the restrained use of the guitar pyrotechnics his fans have come to expect. The music press agrees that this shows Joe Bonamassa’s growth as an artist. Using the word restraint and Joe Bonamassa in the same sentence is a bit odd, but they may be right.
Joe put it pretty succinctly in an interview with Guitar.com “The good thing about having had 44 albums out in 20 years is that if you’re buying a Joe Bonamassa record now, I kind of have to assume that you know I know how to play the guitar before you purchase! I’m trying not to sound flippant, but it allows you to truncate the solos to where you don’t have to prove your worth every fucking song!”
The album is full of great tracks. Of note is the heart-warming ballad ‘Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye’ and ‘Lonely Boy’ full of big-band influences and a rocking boogie-woogie piano courtesy of Reese Wynan. I mentioned earlier that I was saving the best for last, ‘Beyond the Silence’ is destined to be a future classic and included on the play lists of blues musos in years to come. Joe’s voice carries the lyrics perfectly and Reese Wynan, once again, lifts it to another level.
I think that Joe Bonamassa achieved his goal in creating a ‘British’ album with the UK influences being deeply immersed in the crafting of the songs, rather than a stylized offering of British-style blues. If you love guitar blues you can’t miss joining Joe for a brew of ‘Royal Tea’.
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Words © Andrew Knapp 2020