Blues guitar hero Joe Bonamassa’s live and studio output has been prodigious in recent years. Add in his business and charitable ventures, and it’s clear that he likes to keep himself busy. Nevertheless, it’s the studio albums that are the real highlights, presenting new material that is reworked and moulded into his live shows. Trouble is, he has been setting the bar higher and higher with each successive release; his 2017 Black Coffee collaboration with ace singer Beth Hart was a stunning dream team, his 2018 solo album Redemption was among the best work he had ever produced, and last year’s Royal Tea was outstanding, his best ever album in this reviewer’s opinion. Wisely then, he strives to go out on further limbs with Time Clocks, rather than simply going head-to-head with his recent releases.
So rather than crashing into a rocking opening track, this set starts with a whisper, ambient noises and footsteps that draw the listener in. After a minute, the first track proper begins – lead single Notches is a riff-heavy hard rocker in true classic rock vein, with an atmospheric video to boot. The notches are in his walking cane, referencing the huge amount of travel in his career and the places it has taken him to. It stretches to a full seven minutes, largely due to an ambient breakdown in the middle featuring a didgeridoo player no less, Bunna Lawrie from Australian Aboriginal band Coloured Stone.
The Heart That Never Waits rolls along on a Black Velvet-style slow triplet shuffle, telling of a toxic relationship, and with a monochrome video to match. The title track Time Clocks, featured in the video at the foot of this page, is another seven-minute epic, which apart from a jolly, melodic, country riff in the intro, is a pure Pink Floyd pastiche – the verse structure and vocal style could have been taken straight from The Division Bell, with a slow, soaring slide solo in the vein of Dave Gilmour. The catastrophic relationship theme returns for Questions And Answers, which despite its staccato, minor-key blues structure, starts with pizzicato strings bouncing left and right in the mix. Mind’s Eye starts as an acoustic blues ballad, but there’s a lot of rise and fall in this one, harking back in style to the title track from his 2014 album Different Shades Of Blue.
Curtain Call is, again, well over seven minutes, and is clearly the structural standout number on this set. The opening riff is reminiscent of Dio’s Holy Diver, but as an orchestra comes in over the top, followed by an acoustic guitar riff, it becomes almost Gothically symphonic. Major key vocals sung over a basically minor key backing add a bit of tension, building to some freaky stereo-panning effects at the end. The Loyal Kind goes the other way completely, a folky country number punctuated by sections on a tin whistle, or perhaps a descant recorder.
Hanging On A Loser opens with a great bluesy riff and some funky piano, with final number Known Unknowns a mid-tempo country rock, again approaching seven minutes. Bonamassa’s regular piano wizard Reese Wynans is replaced on this album by antipodean keyboard genius Lachy Doley, famous for his whammy-bar Hammond organ and aggressive soloing, but the drums are provided, as ever, by the excellent Anton Fig. The female backing vocal trio do great service on the whole set, with most of the numbers building to a huge wall of sound at some point or other.
So yes, Time Clocks is another great set from Bonamassa’s stable, available in CD, vinyl and download formats, and the bar remains tortuously high. Is it as good as Royal Tea though? Well in my opinion, last year’s album still holds the title, for sheer raw rocking power and visceral guitar histrionics. This one stretches in different directions though. You pays your money and takes your choice, but you won’t be disappointed either way.
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