October 1, 2023

Blues guitar supremo Joe Bonamassa goes back to his roots with this new release – of course, the core of his music has always been good old-fashioned blues, but like most modern guitarists in the genre, he has branched out into other areas. Most of his recent albums have essentially been rock, in many cases with a deep country influence, also incorporating elements of gospel, soul, folk and world music. Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 though, is a reference to his 3rd solo offering, Blues Deluxe from 2003, which was a blues covers album in the main, with just a couple of original songs. The title was taken from a Jeff Beck track sung by Rod Stewart back in the days when Rod was a bona fide rock singer, and Bonamassa’s album was a triumph of the electric blues genre. He has recorded other blues covers albums in the intervening time, while also writing and recording his own material and improving and expanding his musical palette, especially his singing style.

Joe Bonamassa lookin’ mean (photo: Christie Goodwin)

Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 comprises eight covers and two original numbers, and also features guitar guest spots from his long-time collaborator Josh Smith, and ex Fabulous Thunderbird Kirk Fletcher. The new set kicks off with Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s sombre, minor-key Twenty-Four Hour Blues, which shows off Joe’s progression as a singer dramatically – he really stretches out on this one, and released it as the lead single from the album. This is followed by a nice, funky take on Bobby Parker’s It’s Hard But it’s Fair, which shows off the horn section to good effect.

Second single, his version of Guitar Slim’s Well, I Done Got Over It from the 1950s, incorporates a soul element, almost gospel in its execution, although without any particular spiritual message – this is the featured video at the foot of this page. 1960s rock’n’roll informs the next number though, a cover of Ronnie Earle’s I Want To Shout About It, featuring some sweet walking bass from Calvin Turner, who also arranged the horns for the album.

The next song is a full-on slow blues about a wino who also makes the laws for the nation, and benefits from Reese Wynans’ tinkling honky-tonk piano backing, and a big build during the guitar solo. Only now do we come to one of the original numbers, fourth single Hope You Realize It (Goodby Again), written by Bonamassa and Tom Hambridge, with rapid four-to-the-floor bass work and bongo backing. Unusually for Bonamassa, it also features massed male backing vocals; most of the background vocals on the album are female, provided by Jade MacRae, Mahalia Barnes and Danielle DeAndrea.

The third single was a pretty faithful cover of Fleetwood Mac’s rocking Lazy Poker Blues, although modernised, beefed up with horns and keyboards, and heavied-up to a degree. Albert King’s You Sure Drive A Hard Bargain is a down-tempo, chugging 12-bar, but then all the stops are pulled out for the rocking shuffle The Truth Hurts, originally performed by New Orleans bluesman Kenny Neal. Smith, Fletcher and Bonamassa take turns singing and playing the solos, with all three of them interleaving with some sweet answer-backs at the end. It’s all been great so far, very entertaining, performed and produced to pin-sharp perfection as we have come to expect from Bonamassa and Smith’s camp. The absolute highlight of the set though, has to be the Josh Smith-penned closer, Is It Safe To Go Home. Diverting from the purist blues theme to some extent, it’s a rock ballad along the lines of Gary Moore’s Still Got The Blues, and features some Moore-style soloing, with the only appearance of Bonamassa’s wah pedal on this set. Possibly a little out of place compared to the rest of the album, it certainly doesn’t detract in any way, a soaring, screaming epic of 6½ minutes. The whole set runs to ten tracks and 43 minutes, a little shy of the original Blues Deluxe’s 12 songs and 50 minute running time. And yes, Bonamassa’s technique may have moved up and onwards in the intervening 20 years, but he was never any slouch on the guitar by any means, and for my money, the new set doesn’t contain the tremendous and imaginative variation on the first volume. Some listeners may say the new set is therefore more focussed, but I have to admit to being a big fan of musical variety, so I still have to cast my vote in favour of Vol. 1 from 2003. It’s a matter of opinion though, as no one is ever short-changed by any release from Joe Bonamassa, currently without doubt the world’s top blues guitarist.

Joe Bonamassa’s new album Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 is released worldwide by J&R Adventures on Friday 6 October 2003