Royal Tea – Joe Bonamassa.

Categories: Reviews

If only self-confessed Anglophile JB had been around when I was a kid. I wouldn’t have had to endure the ridicule of my peers who ragged me for preferring the ‘white boy’ blues of the Thames delta as opposed say to the Chicago originals. To them the likes of Peter Green, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton etc were imitations of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and the acts on Chess Records. If it came from Britain it wasn’t the real thing. Interesting therefore to note in Joe’s liner notes for this latest offering that he confesses that he learned the Blues from British interpreters first, finding it dangerous and full of joyous naiveté. Validation! But sadly it’s all come 50 years too late!

Seriously though, that frank admission sets the scene for this ‘bucket-list’ adventure of an album inspired by the British heroes whose influences shaped his formative years. Realising a lifelong dream to record at the famed Abbey Road studios, the 10 original tracks here were co-written with a string of British musicians and writers including former Whitesnake man Bernie Marsden, ex-Cream lyricist Pete Brown and Jools Holland. They haven’t disappointed.

Although there is an undoubted ‘Brit Blues Boom’ influence at work here that doesn’t mean this is some contrived nod to the past. The genius of this album is that the blues roots that undoubtedly influenced JB’s playing and writing have been interwoven with his love for rock and then melded into a whole that is completely contemporary. Take lead track ‘When One Door Opens’, co-written with former Cream lyricist Pete Brown. After a majestic orchestral sweep the tune turns into one of those off kilter melodies that Jack Bruce so splendidly specialised in and we’re all set, except there’s a segue and we’re suddenly jolted into an early 70’s passage straight out of the Tony Iommi book of riffs – bizarre but brilliant!

The unexpected continues throughout the album. Diversity is a buzz word at the moment and that’s certainly what you get here. The stomping title track is in places reminiscent of the old Chicago masters but then we veer off into the 70’s via a Bernie Marsden co-write ‘Why Does It Long To Say Goodbye’ that sounds like a ringer for Back Street Crawler. One of the real surprises though is ‘Lookout Man’ – an almost grungy, down-tuned number that rumbles along propelled by a bludgeoning bass line and a bone-crunching guitar riff that would give Nirvana a run for their money.

My reference points may have given you the impression that this album is derivative but that would be unfair. Sure there are signposts from the past but Bonamassa is an imaginative player whose curve balls always keep the listener’s attention. His output is prodigious but this album – written in less than two weeks – is testament to a musician at the top of his game and must rank as one of his best to date.

Lyndon Noon

Pre-Order the album here: https://joeb.me/RoyalTea

 

 

 

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