Joe Bonamassa is known as a blues guitar hero, but the pleasant surprises of Redemption, his latest album, are his songwriting and vocals. Bonamassa is prolific. Redemption is 13th solo studio album. That’s not counting the live albums or his work with his Black Country Communion side project, nor his work with singer Beth Hart. The challenge of generating that much music is finding something new to say, while still holding on to your core sound.
Redemption is full of angles and takes that keep things interesting—for the listener and for Bonamassa. For instance, Bonamassa explores some 1980s rock sounds on a few tracks. It’s reminiscent of his work with the aforementioned Black Country Communion, a supergroup made up of British rock legend Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple and Black Sabbath), drummer Jason Bonham, and metal keyboardist Derek Sherinian. “Deep in the Blues Again” has an unusual ’80s rock vibe, that’s also kind of country. It features a cool-and-weird spacey guitar riff, and background vocals that all conspire to give the song a theatrical flair. The result is essentially a Who track. “Redemption” is a power ballad with Western touches a la Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive.” The track is dramatic and catchy, though.
Bonamassa seems to understand his fan base also wants a fair amount of blues guitar and he delivers. “Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should” is pure blues rock right out of the Stevie Ray Vaughan playbook. Bonamassa throws in a flashy solo, but his playing, as well as his vocals, have a lot of soul. He’s not phoning in this performance. There are also tracks like “King Bee Shakedown,” which sounds like the Doors’ “L.A. Woman” as performed by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. The track, which, like many of the songs on the album features a solid horn section, swings in a jazzy-yet-rockabilly way. But there’s a darkness to Bonamassa’s vocals that give the song—all of the album’s songs, really—a sense of danger.
The album’s most interesting track is “Self-Inflicted Wounds,” whose title pretty much says it all in terms of the song’s subject matter and tenor. It’s a sweet, slow ballad that’s actually a little grunge-y. The guitar solo is slow and intense, and even features harmony guitars. It doesn’t sound like what you might expect from Bonamassa, but at the same time, it sure does sound like him.
The interesting thing about Bonamassa’s volume of output is that it has allowed him to internalize blues rock. So even as he expands his songwriting, moving in a more mainstream rock direction, blues rock is still hard-wired into his playing. That’s a good thing, because he’s a talented blues guitarist. But it’s also nice hearing him continuously trying to expand his comfort zone.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should
– Ghost of Macon Jones
– King Bee Shakedown
– Self-Inflicted Wounds
The Big Hit
– Self-Inflicted Wounds
Review by Steven Ovadia