Guitar Planet does not, in any way, condone excessive drinking, or wandering off into the night and doing dark deeds. However, we'd make an exception in the case of Joe Bonamassa's latest offering, because if ever a blues record needed to get leathered on bourbon, rampage through the gloaming and just let itself go, dammit, it's this one.
For a start, there are three covers out of 11 tracks: not a crime in itself, but they represent the key problem here. Songs from Robert Johnson ('Stones in my passway'), Howlin' Wolf ('Who's been talking') and Tom Waits ('New coat of paint') are represented. Alas, the smoothed out treatments they all receive – Waits gets smothered in rippling layers of organ, Wolf is domesticated with a by-the-numbers Zeppelin-esque shuffle and Johnson is unrecognisable under oil-slick production – are maddening, hinting at either a lack of ideas, time, or both.
The vocal sample from Wolf at the start of 'Who's been talking' is a woeful miscalculation, too, his passionate growl only serving to highlight the cavernous absence of soul from the cover that follows – and, disappointingly, the record as a whole.
It's not that the songs are terrible. 'Dislocated boy' starts with a promising swampiness, 'I got all you need' shows flashes of lusty swagger and 'Somewhere trouble don't go' boasts crackles of brilliance like a storm in the far distance, especially when a sinister slide guitar solo lurches out halfway through.
But - and it's a vexing 'but' – that storm never quite breaks. Instead the songs are just too clean, and the production far too sleek. Safely swaddled in the middle of the mix, Bonamassa's playing is technically sound but never inspiring; likewise his vocal doesn't get beyond 'sounding a bit cross', when what the songs need is pain, and fury, and to be taken round the back and roughed up a little.
So maybe let's think of this as a wrong turn, because while it's not bad there's too much at fault with the production and predictable structure (you can feel the insipid 'A place in my heart' coming even before the hand-wringing opening notes) to make it memorable. It needs a tougher, meaner or simply more rough-and-ready live sound – but whatever you do Joe, turn around and head somewhere a little darker, because driving towards the daylight is definitely not the right way to go.
Buy if: you like your blues smooth like a fine wine
Avoid if: you think it should come with a beer chaser and some peanuts, at most
Best bit: the churning mid-section of 'Somewhere trouble don't go'
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