Joe Bonamassa’s Eclectic Tribute to Danny Gatton is a Rousing Success

The Sleep Eazys | Easy to Buy, Hard to Sell | (J&R Adventures)

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4 out of 5 stars

The world may not have been asking for yet another Joe Bonamassa project, but we got one anyway. And it’s a keeper. 

The oddly named Sleep Eazys isn’t blues/roots/fusion rocker Bonamassa’s only all-instrumental side gig;he has already released a few discs with his 70’s styled jazz/prog/funk act Rock Candy Funk Party. But this one is unique because it’s also a tribute to Danny Gatton, one of Bonamassa’s mentors and a guitarist he, and many others, consider one of the best and most overlooked six stringers ever.  

Gatton was only 49 years old when he committed suicide in 1994 just as his music was starting to be recognized by a larger audience. Like the multi-talented Gatton– who dabbled in jazz, country and surf in addition to his base of rockabilly, blues and roots Americana– Bonamassa also has few boundaries constraining his playing. Between the rock band Black Country Communion, work with soul singer Beth Hart and his own diverse, plugged in blues, he dabbles in more genres than almost any other roots based guitarist of his popularity.

Considering how full Bonamassa’s musical dance card already is, the fact that he felt it imperative to enlighten his audience to the under-acknowledged Gatton shows just how serious and dedicated he is about this venture. He also produced the sessions, only the second time he has taken that step. 

The Sleep Eazys band is comprised primarily of the guitarist’s veteran road musicians like drummer Anton Fig, ex-Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans and bassist Michael Rhodes. The nine tunes are all covers, and while most are obscure they display both Gatton and Bonamassa’s eclectic nature. 

From the opening Gatton composed swinging blues shuffle of “Fun House” to surfy, spy themes from the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the 60s TV show “Hawaiian Eye,” (where he goes Tiki lounge during a break) along with the jittery jazz of Hank Garland’s “Move” and Jimmy Bryant’s amusing jumping Asian roots mix in “Ha So,” Bonamassa shifts genre gears with deceptive ease. 

He digs into swampy Americana with a cover of Tony Joe White’s hit “Polk Salad Annie” (the disc’s most recognizable selection), adding horns and cool/cheesy female backing singers chugging along with Jimmy Hall’s bluesy harmonica on one of the set’s most driving selections. Tunes from Link Wray and King Curtis (a smooth, late night bluesy version of “Blue Nocturne”) are also explored/unearthed as Bonamassa whips out short, tight licks that are less glitzy and boisterous than on his own albums.

The closing, somewhat schmaltzy, string enhanced ballad of the Frank Sinatra classic “It Was a Very Good Year” goes a little too far astray of the overall gusty vibe established on the rest of the disc. It could have been replaced with perhaps another Gatton original. 

Still, this tribute to the guitarist has few other weak spots. At nine tunes that total just over a half hour, it’s on the short side, but Bonamassa and his band rip through a terrific, often pulsating and electrifying set that’s so stylistically varied, it will hopefully awaken interest in Danny Gatton’s generally forgotten talents as well as being a highlight in Bonamassa’s already bulging catalog.

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