Review Summary: Joe Bonamassa's ninth studio album goes beyond the typical blues rock sound.
Joe Bonamassa seems to be one of those artists that not many people in the mainstream talk about, yet he is rather huge in a commercial and critical sense. People, such as this particular reviewer, may have only noticed him thanks to his recent work with Black Country Communion, but he and his insanely prolific discography have gathered a great deal of acclaim in the blues music scene. Dust Bowl is his latest studio album and shows that he has developed an experimental flair to go along with his consistent deliveries.
While I personally am not as familiar with Bonamassa's discography as I would like to be, many reviewers have identified this particular effort as one of his most eclectic and experimental efforts. And after hearing the various styles that are presented on here, I would certainly be inclined to agree. One thing that immediately stands out are the country influences that have seeped their way into this album's sound. They are most prominent on the upbeat run-through of the John Hiatt-penned "Tennessee Plates" and the smooth touches on Vince Gill 's "Sweet Rowena." In addition, a very folk music feel can be heard on "Black Lung Heartache," a track that fiddles around with Greek instrumentation and yet seems like it would not have been too out of place on Led Zeppelin's third album. Of course, the song's pounding second half might also have something to do with that.
But for the most part, the rest of the album is still firmly rooted in the classic blues style as songs tend to go between heavier stomping tracks and mellow jams. The more rock-oriented tracks manage to be pretty solid with "Slow Train" opening the album with a classic railroad rhythm, "You Better Watch Yourself" providing a nice take on a classic blues structure and "The Whale That Swallowed Jonah" serving as another happy sounding romp. The slower songs do have a slight tendency to run together at times but there are still some highlights to be found. The title track seems to combine a driving beat with smooth hooks and a laid back feel, "The Last Matador of Bayonne" features a sweet Spanish feel and the closing "Prisoner" shows off a bombarding arrangement that is sure to make listeners forget that the song was originally done by Barbra Streisand.
But with everything that is going on with this album, Bonamassa is always in top form and never seems to be caught off guard. His guitar playing showcases a good mix of soulfulness and technicality while his vocals seem to fit just about every style that is put in front of him. Fortunately, he is not the only performer that stands out on this album as the various musicians that make up the album's rhythm sections provide some strong foundations while also providing plenty of jamming opportunities. The drumming done by noted session musician Anton Fig is the most noteworthy as he manages to give "The Meaning of the Blues" a good pounding and provides some great Bonham-styled beats on "Black Lung Heartache."
The album is also noteworthy for the three guest musicians that make appearances on various tracks, a move that may or may not have been inspired by his recent collaborations and cameos. While I am not familiar with John Hiatt's works, his vocal contributions on "Tennessee Plates" give the track a great feel and Vince Gill's pleasant tone helps make "Sweet Rowena" memorable. Unsurprisingly, Bonamassa also managed to bring in one of his fellow Communion members as vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes comes on for a rousing version of Free's "Heartbreaker." While this certainly is a great track and features good performances from both musicians, it would've been cool to see them duet on another original track rather than a cover. Then again, BCC did manage to put out a second album a couple months ago.
With Bonamassa releasing solo albums and works with BCC at a frighteningly constant rate, it is great to see that he is able to keep the songwriting strong and the sounds fresh. There are a few times where tracks seem to run together and there could have been even more experimental bits, but this is a good quality album overall and certainly worth getting for blues fans. Of course, I am not entirely sure if this is the best place to start for a new fan though I know I still need to look a little further into his back catalog. But knowing how his work rate seems to be, we should expect to hear just as good this time next year. As strange as it sounds, I am curious to see if he will be doing anything else with that country influence.
"The Whale That Swallowed Jonah
Originally published at http://suite101.com