Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Above all things, Joe Bonamassa is a musician’s musician and a man admired as much by his peers as he is by the countless thousands who buy his records and pack out concert halls worldwide to see him.
There is a passion for music that informs every fibre of his being and his constant pursuit of new experiences pushes him even harder, his focus laser-like. Given his talent, it would be easy to be consumed with feeding the ego that all performers have lurking inside them but it’s a testament to his character that he spends so much time highlighting and encouraging others, be it fellow artists like Joanna Connor, Beth Hart and Joanne Shaw Taylor, working with legends like Dion DiMucci or with his charity work, particularly with Keeping the Blues Alive.
The epitome of prolific, he still has time to squeeze in working on his own material and, following on closely from last year’s critically acclaimed ‘Royal Tea’ album, ‘Time Clocks’ once again cements his title as ‘Modern King of the Blues’.
Produced by long-time collaborator Kevin Shirley, the ten-track release is an incendiary display of Bonamassa’s craft. This pairing of musician and producer has paid huge dividends and the obvious close connection they have has certainly birthed a working relationship that sees the pair sonically achieve all that they were aiming for.
The performances and song writing sparkles and the first thing that strikes you is just how big it sounds, everything really hits you in the chest but never eschews subtlety over volume as Shirley works his undoubted magic.
Following the short opening of ‘Pilgrimage’ and a brief atmospherically mystical passage, ‘Notches’ kicks in with a slamming heavy blues riff as Bonamassa lets loose in no uncertain terms.
With the thunder of the drum and bass behind him, the six stringer takes flight and the solo is a breathless display of his quicksilver skills, the track a monster. ‘The Heart That Never Waits’ turns down the muscle slightly, surfing on a buoyant rhythm that is as upbeat as it is soulful, getting the blues never sounding so good.
The title track glories in a real 70’s vibe, elegant and emotive, it leans into the sort of fractured hearted blues that Slowhand does so naturally and adds elements that have subtle echoes of both Meat Loaf and Queen into the production mix to make it grand but never overly bombastic.
It’s a heady combination that you’re sure that Clapton, Jim Steinman, Mercury and May would nod their heads approvingly to, JB displaying as singular and impressive a talent as those artists whilst very much leading in his own way. As well as the high drama, there’s plenty of light and shade here, Bonamassa and Shirley masters of dynamics as the ballsy blues and big juddering riff of ‘Questions and Answers’ is followed by the breath taking and touching ‘Mind’s Eye’.
Recalling the tension of Led Zeppelin’s epic ‘Kashmir’, ‘Curtain Call’ brings together all the epic elements the Midlands legends were imbued with and sprinkles it with the magic that Deep Purple brought at the height of their mid 70’s powers.
Yet another outstanding solo is wrapped around with a veritable artillery of swelling orchestral strings, acoustic guitar and drums, the softly sung voice of Bonamassa during the verses the eye of the hurricane as the storm rages around it. ‘The Loyal Kind’ finds the guitarist in the sort of blues rock territory as Bad Company but he adds some soul on steroids, the playing and production absolutely stunning.
The jaunty shuffling romp of ‘Hanging On A Loser’ is a playful highlight, its touch just right, before laid back closer ‘Known Unknowns’ finishes things off, its delicate but sure construction the perfect come down after the firework display that proceeds it. Loud or soft, the tracks are perfectly balanced, and this must surely rank up there with some of the very best work the New Yorker has done in his highly celebrated career, the writing itself the very core of his success.
In an era when so many modern guitar heroes lack real substance beyond the surface flash, Bonamassa shows you can have it all and his playing, singing and penmanship are an unbeatable combination, all glued together with a feel and soul that so few possess.
Time Clocks’ is a testament to the power of the blues and how one man striving for perfection can both enthral and inspire a generation. A truly stunning achievement.
►Album available at https://joeb.me/TimeClocks
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