29 October 2021 (released)
18 October 2021
For an artist who is probably the most prolific and hardest working around, this album feels like a continuation from his period ten or eleven years ago. More rock than Blues, darkly intense and really passionate.
Last year’s ‘Royal Tea’ most definitely sounded as though he was revisiting his influences but this one has the feel of Bonamassa revisiting the Bonamassa of ‘Ballad of John Henry’ and from the opening notes of ‘Pilgrimage’ to the end of ‘Known Unknowns’ it kept me absolutely locked in to the sounds emanating from my speakers.
An absolute stunner.
The album was originally going to be a trio album, but I gather that the songs demanded a more expansive presentation and it certainly seems as though that view was spot on. His band on this album includes Steve Mackey (bass), Lachy Doley (piano), Bunna Lawrie (didgeridoo), Bobby Summerfield (percussion), Anton Fig (drums and percussion), along with Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Prinnie Stevens on backing vocals. No horns and none of the fat sound Bonamassa has been working for the last few years.
It has a fulsome production (Kevin Shirley as ever) but the music is still immediate and powerful and everything that is added to Guitar/bass/drums is there to enhance the song rather than to make a style statement. The mix was by Bob Clearmountain and he has done a brilliant job of bringing Bonamassa’s vocals out while creating a ‘wall of sound’ behind him.
‘Notches’ was the first single and Bonamassa paints a brilliant picture of a time-worn but still ‘on top’ gun/guitarslinger. The sound is huge and dynamic, his guitar is powerful but underneath the whole track is a constant, plodding beat that perfectly sums up the concept of “miles under my wheels, notches on my walking cane”.
The title track has a massive opening that almost immediately becomes a country-esque statement by a player at the end of his time. It flies into peaks and crescendos in a very Jim Steinman like manner. I can see this one making a fabulous live number, hugely theatrical and exhausting (in a very good way).
‘Minds Eye’ shows a subtler side, very intimate and intense with a delicious riff underlying his vocals. As the song builds, the intensity really grows and the number becomes a real plea from the heart.
The album was recorded in New York and it has some of the NYC attitude about it.
Bonamassa says: “Twenty years ago, I recorded a record of covers that eventually was called ‘Blues Deluxe.’ It was recorded at Bobby Nathan's studio in Manhattan. It captured an energy and purpose that always stuck with me as an artist. I lived in New York City at the time and times were pretty tough. My weekly routine was a combination of hustling sessions, gigs, and opportunities that seemed few and far between. I was hungry. Literally and figuratively. The music business is tough, very tough. Especially back in those days when major labels pulled all the strings and, in my case, all the punches. I subsisted on a basic diet of peanut butter and jelly and ramen noodles, purchased at the bodega on the corner of 83rd and Columbus Avenue.
Cut to 2019 and I find myself back in New York and inspired by the city again. My living conditions had changed dramatically in the subsequent 20 years, but the energy that makes New York City great still remained.”
That attitude and some stellar writing and playing definitely make this one of the best albums I’ve enjoyed this year.
Up there with his best.