Time Clocks, the new album from blues-rock legend JOE BONAMASSA is an outstanding song anthology that reveals new information about the master’s life as a rock ‘n’ blues labourer — giving us a better understanding of his bib ‘n’ braces approach to toil and servitude (to his music) and (perhaps) more of an acute angle on his enduring emotions, his incessant conceptualisation, his constant interpreting. We also glimpse his eternal curses: forever roaming, ever exploring, always fighting for better… forever chasing the insatiable ambitions of an expert who constantly demands the ultimate from himself.
Joe is the archetypal wandering minstrel of our generation.
As tracks “Notches” and “The Heart That Never Waits” disclose on this album, the tireless itinerant has chosen a pathway that has led to triumph and reward — but what has been the personal cost? We honestly don’t know. Although we can be sure that the route has not always been easy. However, it is clear from “Time Clocks” that Joe is not about to abandon the struggle any time soon!
In fact, brighter and bolder than ever, these recent recordings prove that the musician possess a newly concentrated energy and has enhanced his already compelling songwriting skills. These compositions, when combined with the steadfast musical prowess that can only come from years of diligence, determination, and obedience, present an album of such outstanding character that it’s virtually impossible to assimilate it all in one sitting. It is satisfyingly fleshed out, sweeping in outlook, and (best of all) this album is multifaceted in aspiration.
And, with this new release, the musician extends his reach: twisting genres, breaking through barricades, and defying the assumptions of an industry that (he has discovered) can be heartless and indifferent.
Joe vocalises […] with a smooth underbelly vibe that gets better and better with each of his releases…
Joe vocalises the lyrics on the first great hymn of the album, “Notches” with a smooth underbelly vibe that gets better and better with each of his releases. The singer declares, “I got miles under my wheels. Notches in my walkin’ cane.”
This is a number that is filled with spike, bounce and claw-back…and sounds kinda Australianish (mixed by Bob Clearmountain who has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Toto, Bon Jovi, and others). The song was co-written with Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke. The track was recorded in New York City at Germano Studios/The Hit Factory and Joe’s backing band includes Steve Mackey (bass), Lachy Doley (piano), Bunna Lawrie (didgeridoo), Bobby Summerfield (percussion), and Late Night with David Letterman‘s Anton Fig (drums and percussion), along with Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Prinnie Stevens on stunning backing vox.
“The Heart That Never Was” starts as a slow engine, a chuffer of perspiration, purple vocals, slimy beats, and damp guitars. But it quickly becomes a steamroller of authority and fortune. It is a song about exhaustion and prolongation. And it’s great! It’s a magnificent dishing-out of righteous blues and uncompromising proclamation.
The first “big long sound” of the album arrives with “Time Clocks” which is progressive in nature, with an early organ swish (Lachy Doley). The guitar work comes much later in the movement and takes the form of a sliding bottleneck (which will please blues fans) followed by soft gold tones of texture and richness. Backing vocals (by Juanita Tippins and Prinnie Stevens) add exuberance; and the fruitful rhythms are ingenious. On this exceptional track, Kevin Shirley (producer) has facilitated a complex, multi-layered, and altogether architectural soundscape.
“Questions and Answers” is a melodramatic symphonic blues number with fat portions of orchestral flair and the demon of whimsical tragedy lurking in the shadows. This has the most influential concertmaster riff of all time, and the bravado and histrionics have to be heard to be believed! It is an example of irascible razzmatazz!
more lucid in tone (this) is clearheaded sway with sapphire tones and nuzzling textures…
“Mind’s Eye” is more lucid in tone and nature, a clearheaded sway with sapphire tones and nuzzling textures. The defending chorus is admirable and the culmination, for the careful listener, is one that brings conscience and gratitude. This reminded us of something that could surely have turned up on Wishbone Ash’s Wishbone Four (1973) because it is brooding, vulnerable, and more fallible than we’ve heard from Joe before… It is quite existential!
The other “big long” number on this album is the vividly cinematic “Curtain Call”. It’s a smokehouse aria that would have pleased Creedence Clearwater Revival in ’69. It’s like something that’s been worked on by John Fogerty, with George Martin, at Headley Grange, in about 1973. You get the idea! Therefore, it’s a full-blown extravaganza, with the same edgy yet sophisticated quality that was found on Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” — grandeur and opulence — masking tears of repentance and occasions of betrayed agony.
Joe Bonamassa’s new album ‘Time Clocks’ is released by Provogue/Mascot Label Group on October 29th via www.mascotlabelgroup.com
Joe tours the UK in April and May 2022. Tickets: www.jbonamassa.com/tour-dates
Words: @neilmach 2021 ©
Photos by Eleanor Jane