Friday, August 19, 2016

Joe Bonamassa - Blues Deluxe (2003)

1. You Upset Me Baby
2. Burning Hell
3. Blues Deluxe
4. Man Of Many Words
5. Woke Up Dreaming
6. I Don't Live Anywhere
7. Wild About You Baby
8. Long Distance Blues
9. Pack It Up
10. Left Overs
11. Walking Blues
12. Mumbling Word

Going back and listening through Joe's discography in chronological order is fascinating. On his first album he sounds like the new kid on the block, going head to head with every other guitar virtuoso in town (and coming out in front). On his second album he tries out a more mainstream, pop(-ish) sound, so that by the time you get to Blues Deluxe - an album filled with blues covers to celebrate "the year of the blues" - it's a refreshing reminder of what Joe is all about - playing the blues. And while Joe has always been into experimenting with how far he can stretch the limitations of the blues format, this is going straight to the root of what the blues is. And he needed this - before pushing the blues into new frontiers, he had to establish a base of operations - a control variable, if you will.

And it doesn't get much more traditional than this. Featuring covers of songs by no less than B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, and T-Bone Walker, this is a great record to spin if you love the blues - even if the fact that it's a little more eclectic, and features a few slower and/or acoustic tracks, means I don't listen to it quite as often as A New Day Yesterday. The title track - a cover of a song recorded by Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, of all people (British blues represent!) - is the clear standout, with not only a scorching guitar part, but a remarkable vocal performance, marking the first moment it became clear that Joe Bonamassa was serious about improving his singing (I remember this song distinctly from the first time I saw Joe in concert, in a small, repurposed movie theater).

I'm also a fan of the John Lee Hooker cover, Burning Hell, featuring a mean slide guitar and harmonica accompaniment, which Joe had a habit of slinging together with the song The River from his next album, during concerts from this era. Woke Up Dreaming is a great acoustic showcase (it's basically Joe saying, "I don't always play acoustic guitar, but when I do, I play the shit out of it"), although once you've heard Joe play this one live, you'll feel like the studio version cuts off short. Another of the few original tracks on this album, I Don't Live Anywhere is the first in a series of softer, slower ballads that Joe will record. It's another great showcase for his singing, and could well be Joe "Always On The Road" Bonamassa's theme song - "I don't live anywhere, I live everywhere; this road is my home."

I would rate Long Distance Blues - a slow, mournful blues penned by T-Bone Walker, who wrote Stormy Monday - one of the premier unsung "deep cuts" in Joe Bonamassa's catalogue, but at under four minutes, it unfortunately doesn't stick around long enough to make a better case for itself. The rest of the album consists of slightly less memorable tracks, that are nevertheless still perfectly solid songs to fill out the album. And it's fun to hear Joe play in more or less the styles of different blues legends - which, incidentally, is the subject of some of his recent concerts. I've read that Blues Deluxe is one of Joe's fan-favorite, best-selling albums - and it's understandable: the blues is popular (in its own way). I may not rate it one of my top favorites, but it's definitely in the upper half, and it's a good early representation of what Joe is all about.

Rating: 💿💿 Occasional Spin

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