3 1/2 out of 5 stars
I got miles under my wheels/Notches in my walkin’ cane/Still winking at hard times /Smiling at the pouring rain sings Joe Bonamassa at the outset of his first pandemic studio release. It speaks to an indefatigable work ethic that, at least for 2020 and 2021, remains even if his tireless touring schedule, like everyone else’s, came to a screeching halt.
That didn’t stop him from recording a 2020 live CD/DVD at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, albeit without an audience, to promote his previous studio title Royal Tea. As life approached pre-pandemic normal, Bonamassa decamped to New York City in February 2021, a place he had previously lived and recorded, to tap into the energy and inspiration it provides. Although his producer/co-songwriter Kevin Shirley was stuck in Australia, they connected consoles real-time, used overdubs, and crafted a near-hour-long collection that pushes Bonamassa’s well-established blues rocking boundaries.
There’s plenty of his trademarked rugged roots rock in the power chords and tough shuffle of “The Heart That Never Waits” and the riff rocking New Orleans upbeat bubbling funk of “Hanging on a Loser.” But the female backing trio added to the majority of selections such as the bittersweet ballad “Mind’s Eye” brings a full-throated gospel, and somewhat ghostly vibe, he hasn’t tapped into quite as forcefully previously as he sings I’m haunted/By memories you can’t see/A place that’s easy to get to/But hard as hell as to leave.
While Bonamassa has worked with strings before, this time Jeff Bova and his “Bovaland Orchestra” (the talented Bova overdubbing all the parts) bring roaring drama to the nearly eight-minute epic “Curtain Call.” The song is cinematic in its widescreen bluster as tempos change, Bonamassa tears into what sounds like a backward tape guitar solo and a thumping backbeat created an arena-filling show-stopper.
Things shift to a modified Irish lilt in “The Loyal Kind” as the nearly seven-minute track plays with tension and release while the backing singers push the intensity to the next level. And when is the last time you saw a didgeridoo listed in the credits for any blues rocker’s release, as it is on two selections here?
Even with an extensive catalog of live and studio discs, Bonamassa pushes into fresh territory while staying within a blues-based framework. His voice is the weak link though. It’s adequate but not unique or soulful enough to dig into the meat of this material with the force and authority required.
That shouldn’t dissuade his legions of fans from adding the impressive Time Clocks to their already bulging shelves of Bonamassa recordings. There is more than enough proof in this sprawling set that Joe Bonamassa doesn’t intend to rest on his laurels or take his star status in the blues-rock genre for granted.
PHOTO BY ELEANOR JANE