English songstress and blues guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor is something of a dual personality. Blonde and pretty, with a ready smile and a fantastic, smoky voice, she could have been ideal pop princess material. The trouble is, she is also an excellent blues guitarist. Despite her early blues influences and breakthrough as a axe-slinger though, she has turned more and more towards a more varied, pop-based sound, and the blues, although always there, has tended to take a back seat. In 2019, under the production of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, she recorded a great studio album of blues covers simply named The Blues Album, which was subsequently worked into a live CD and DVD named Blues From The Heart Live, released in June 2022. This seemed to have put her firmly back in the blues groove for a while, but although this new 44 minute album Nobody’s Fool also benefits from Bonamassa-Smith production, it heads firmly out of blues territory again, towards soul and pop-rock. Joanne wrote or co-wrote every number except for one, which we shall come to presently.
The set opens with a strident melody line on the slide guitar, which bursts in without any preamble, before JST’s gorgeous, silky voice slithers in over the top, for a retro-rock number that recalls some of Rod Stewart’s early work. Even more retro is Bad Blood, an ominous minor key lament opening with some acoustic strumming, adding twangy Munsters-style electric guitar and even a tolling bell to the mix. Be careful not to confuse Won’t Be Fooled Again at track 3 with The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again; JST’s song is a tuneful pop number with some beautiful, melodic guitar work contributed by Joe Bonamassa – again, the fact that Joe elected to contribute his skills to one of the least bluesy numbers on the record is an indicator that he recognises her individual musical vision and is in the business of helping her realise it. As if to emphasise that point, Just No Getting Over You (Dream Cruise) was selected as the album’s lead single, more of a soul number if anything, featuring some subtle tenor sax in the intro and throughout. And to ram the point home, the second guest spot on the album is taken by classical cellist Tina Guo, who adds her skills to the album’s second single, a piano ballad named Fade Away.
Most of the tracks feature some tasty guitar work at some point, but it’s not until track 6 that anything approaching blues rock makes an appearance, with Then There’s You, which could have been taken straight from the T Rex songbook. With a distinct pub blues influence, a spiky, fuzzy guitar solo makes a drastic change from the creamy tones used on the previous numbers. But for this reviewer at least, the most interesting arrangement and the most successful song on the album by some margin is Runaway at track 7. Starting with an acoustic guitar and restrained bongos, it drifts seamlessly into a groovy folk-rock rhythm – a nice bass break from Calvin Turner halfway through leads via some military drumming and a Bruce Hornsby-style piano passage into an excellent, if brief, pure blues guitar solo. It’s easy listening retro-pop, but still the best song on the album by a street.
The only non-original track features JST’s friend and mentor Dave Stewart on a cover of the Eurythmics’ Missionary Man. It’s a good version, but wisely, Joanne does not attempt to reproduce the threatening aggression of Annie Lennox’s 1986 delivery, so it takes on a different vibe completely, aided by some deep, grungy bass work. Yet another texture is tried on for size with Figure It Out, which veers into Indie territory and features a punky guitar turn from Bones UK guitarist Carmen Vandenburg. The album finishes on a high, as the final two numbers are both excellent, although again, different from all that has gone before: Leaving Kind is a weeping ballad with a great Spanish-inspired acoustic guitar solo, again sadly short; nevertheless, it also features the first actual passage of screaming blues guitar as song fades out. The set ends with New Love, an upbeat, heavily Motown-inspired number, opening with groovy saxophone; as the song progresses, it develops into a good-time summer anthem reminiscent of Walking On Sunshine by Katrina And The Waves, with flowing lead guitar underpinning the rocking fade-out.
It’s clear that Joanne Shaw Taylor can put out a cracking blues album, but is just as adept at vocal-based, accessible pop-rock. And if you’re that versatile, why not do both? This summer saw her release a live set of blues numbers that proved her credentials in that area; this latest set displays her qualifications in the more commercial pop arena. The fact that she continues to be mentored by big hitters as widely spaced as Joe Bonamassa and Dave Stewart underlines the point. She can do what she likes, so she does.