Blues Deluxe Vol. 2
Joe Bonamassa cannot possibly have an off switch, only one that adjusts the mode. If he’s not out promoting an album onstage somewhere in the world, he’s likely in a studio working on the next one. Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 marks his 51st in 23 years, considering solo albums, a slew of live sets, and collaborative projects with Bloodline, Beth Hart, Black Country Communion, Mahalia Barnes, Rock Candy Funk Party, and Sleep Eazys. The music across those records ranges from blues to soul and R&B to surf to orchestral rock to vintage hard rock and even funk and jazz fusion. Bonamassa plays it all, electric and acoustic, with assurance. But the blues remains his wellspring.
Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 follows by 20 years Bonamassa’s third solo album, Blues Deluxe (titled for the Jeff Beck song covered on it). It features Bonamassa and his dazzling band tearing through a set of classics, deep cuts, and originals that fit the bill. Relentlessly pursuing his craft has paid off in spades. Bonamassa’s natural command during his glorious remake of “Twenty-Four Hour Blues,” one of the classics on Bobby “Blue” Bland’s enduring Dreamer album, proves it immediately with high flying entertainment.
Initially making his mark as a young guitar prodigy, Bonamassa’s solos thirty years later launch exclamation points like fireworks. He’s that good, yet he shares the guitar playing on the album with Josh Smith and Kirk Eli Fletcher, both luminaries in the own right, the latter a welcome new addition to the band. Never is there grandstanding. Rounded out by bassist Calvin Turner, drummer Lemar Carter, renowned keyboardist Reese Wynans, five horn players, four background vocalists, and even a string section, this large group of players, as produced by Smith, crackles with energy. Although performed as grand statements, the essence of the blues—release through storytelling—remains crisp and clear in every song.
And what a program of songs this is! Peter Green’s “Lazy Poker Blues,” a rollicking Fleetwood Mac relic from 1968’s Mr. Wonderful, receives a stripped, ferocious rendering, Wynans pounding his piano in overdrive through it. Bonamassa’s most significant advancement as an artist lies in his full-throated and convincing singing voice. The ease with which he handles “I Want to Shout About It,” a fantastic song of celebration originally recorded by its author Ronnie Earl and his Broadcasters, displays that best by his equal measures of urgency and buttery nuance. Hard charging rhythms and horns complete a gleaming hook that sets in deep. How about “Win-O” (as in wino)? That unusual gem by Pee Wee Crayton burns as if Ray Charles, B.B. King, and T-Bone Walker combined their bands and got down to the business of skewering politicians. In addition, the song serves as the ultimate showcase for the guitarists, their solos defining blues sensibilities through music. The loping groove of “You Sure Drive a Hard Bargain,” peppered with plenty of Albert King sting, makes quite an impression too. They all do.
Of Joe Bonamassa’s several blues-themed albums, Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 stands apart. The man and his band turned on, tuned in, and roared forward in these sessions.
Tom Clarke for MAS
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