This month the consistently impeccable blues-guitar overachiever Smokin JOE BONAMASSA releases his new album entitled “Royal Tea” (so titled, perhaps, because he has been inspired by his British guitar heroes Jeff Beck, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton and Cream and this new disc oozes the best of British blues-rock royalty) — recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London in January 2020 before the mayhem took hold…
The album includes songs co-written by guitarist Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake), Pete Brown (former Cream lyricist) and Jools Holland.
“This whole adventure was a bucket-list thing for me,” says Joe. He discovered the best of British blues in his father’s vinyl collection, and those influences shape the musician he is today: “I would have been about twelve years old, and it was the sound I heard in my head. Like, ‘OK, I’m in. That’s what I want to be’.”
Ten original tracks have been co-written by Joe and the London tea party set: “Writing this record in London has done its job,” recalls Bonamassa. “It really sounds inherently British. Bernie and I, we finish each other’s sentences. We’re cut from the same cloth.”
Bonamassa’s long-standing producer Kevin Shirley and his regular touring band flew in for the recording sessions, which included Anton Fig (drums), Michael Rhodes (bass) and Reese Wynans (keys).
Album opener “When One Door Opens” comes packed with textural “colliery band” style horns, evocatively orchestrated strings, and a brooding guitar riff that glows like a lucky sixpenny in the hand of a chimney sweep’s apprentice. This has the Abbey Road stamp all over it!
The verse is tearful, without seeming corny, until it blooms into something not only breathtaking but also majestic. Eager listeners will notice, hidden in the harmonic shimmer, Maurice Ravel’s Bolero (or is it Beck’s? ha!) a brush with Cohen, and a nod to Jon Lord’s progressive brilliance. You can also hear the influence of George Martin inextricably entwined with Kiss 1977’s “Love Gun” yes… this is the epitome of elegiac songwriting.
“Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye” (video shared below) is an aristocratic waltz, with soft cadences and contemplative voices. The soulful guitar sounds as if Gary Moore inspired it — it’s inconspicuous and mellow.
And like all magnificent blues, this is a lament of desolation, with lustrous antiphonal guitar.
Title track “Royal Tea” sounds like something taken from the Beatles White Album: a murmur of vibrant sounds and unbalanced rhythm-block shapes that collide with great sips of organ and a set of perfectly synchronized backing vocals. The guitar is cloudy like a fox in a snowstorm and cuts through the air like an icicle harpoon.
And “I Didn’t Think She Would Do It” is a howl of chirping phlegm thrust against a blooming rock ‘n’ roll background as it bubbles from the cauldron like a stew of rattlesnake root and pepperwort. This is as hot as crucible steel boiled in a volcanic pressure cooker. Whereas “Beyond The Silence” brings a folkloric nibble of Wishbone Ash-ish self-regulating sustenance. The keys here are exceptionally clear, the vocals are steamy, and the entire piece is admirably reflective.
This is a substantial milestone for Bonamassa. Yes, he looks back, perhaps to a brighter age. But these songs also see him take several steps forward — to an even better time. This is a moment of revelation.
Joe Bonamassa’s new album “Royal Tea” is released by Provogue/Mascot Label Group on Friday October 23rd. Pre-order the album from http://www.mascotlabelgroup.com/Joe-Bonamassa-announces-new-studio-album-Royal-Tea-Pre-order-now and https://shop.jbonamassa.com/collections/royal-tea
Words: @neilmach 2020 ©
Main image: © Laurence Harvey