As a father, I’m frequently reminding my children to take the time to cherish the moment they’re in rather than always looking ahead to what might be coming next. I’ve had to take that same advice myself recently when it comes to blues-rocker Joe Bonamassa, who in late August played to his largest audience ever during a Red Rocks tribute to blues greats Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf – dubbed by Bonamassa as the Muddy Wolf concert – taped for spring 2015 release on CD and DVD.
As a fan of both the traditional Chicago blues of Waters and Wolf as well as Bonamassa’s modern blues-rock (and having seen several videos from the event, including this recap from Bonamassa’s crew themselves), we think it’s fair to say that this historic recording is easily one of the most intriguing projects coming down the pike, the anticipation of which hasn’t exactly made it easy to focus on the impending release of Bonamassa’s newest album, Different Shades of Blue, out next week on his J&R Adventures label. Fortunately, Bonamassa has provided plenty to help hold us over – through next spring and far beyond – in Different Shades of Blue, an album that deserves to be savored in its own right.
The first Bonamassa album to feature only original material, Different Shades of Blue was again produced by Kevin Shirley, the same man who has occupied the producer’s chair on the vast majority of Bonamassa’s last 15 solo and joint (Beth Hart, Black Country Communion) projects, with Shirley identifying this most recent album as his favorite Bonamassa record to date. He also notes that this is one best enjoyed as a complete work of art: “It’s an album that deserves to be listened to in its entirety. Luckily Joe’s fan base really seems to appreciate a body of work and not just songs.”
We can certainly see where he’s coming from: from the haunting a cappella vocals and what Bonamassa himself in a recent interview with a BBC radio show called the “heavy, unapologetic blues-rock” riffs of the opening “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)”/”Oh Beautiful!” to the slow, Ray Charles-inspired blues of “So, What Would I Do” that closes the album, this is one solid and immensely entertaining project from Bonamassa, backed by a talented band of Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble) on organ and piano, Carmine Rojas and Michael Rhodes on bass, Anton Fig on drums and percussion, Lenny Castro on percussion, Ron Dziubla on saxophone, Lee Thornburg on trumpet and trombone, the Bovaland Orchestra on strings, and Doug Henthorn and Melanie Williams on background vocals (a good number of whom will also be featured on that upcoming Muddy Wolf release, having accompanied Joe at his recent show at Red Rocks).
You’ll find those horns and background vocals in full swing on songs such as the funky, driving “Love Ain’t a Love Song” and blues-soaked “Trouble Town”, as well as a showstopping, doo-wop-laced “I Gave Up Everything for You, ‘cept the Blues” with its tough-as-nails vocals and urgent Elmore James style riffs, with horns also nicely complementing the hushed vocals and shuffling grooves of “Living on the Moon” and the slinking “Heartache Follows Wherever I Go”, the latter featuring some superb wah pedal effects from Bonamassa.
The title track is a soft rock number employing a bit of a country chorus, while the bleeding blues power-ballad “Never Give All Your Heart” may be the closest you’ll ever hear Bonamassa sounding to blues-rock contemporary Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s band, with the dark grooves of a percussion-filled “Get Back My Tomorrow” helping to round out the album’s 11 tracks.
In the end, we have to agree with Shirley: this could very likely be Bonamassa’s best record so far. At least, that is, until next time.