Joe Bonamassa doesn’t hang around; Dust Bowl is his sixth release in the last six years. This quick fire approach to new materiel has seen the veteran bluesman climbing the charts. 2010’s Black Rock was Bonamassa’s most successful effort to date, charting at number 14 and even topping the UK’s Indie charts.
Unsurprisingly his return to commercial viability has coincided with a creative renaissance. Bonamassa has spent the last six years exploring every aspect of the blues from roots rock and country stomp to Brit-blues and sprawling balladry.
On Dust Bowl his exploration continues, splitting the record between six originals and six covers. However it’s not the songwriting but Bonamassa’s patience and timing that brings Dust Bowl to life.
On “The Meaning Of The Blues” Bonamassa allows the lonesome melancholy of the track to sink in, giving each depressive verse room to breathe, before he unleashing the rip snarling solo that we all know he’s capable of. Even then, he doesn’t launch into a Gilbert-esque showcase, the fretwork reflects the track’s solemn decent into misery, building slowly to a blistering breaking point.
“Black Lung Heartache” treads a similar path, this time cheekily contrasting spindly English folk with the furrow browed stomp of American blues. The jaunty reflective folk plays the role of decoy, disguising the mammoth grinding riffage that awaits.
Bonamassa’s ultimate moment of restraint, and Dust Bowl’s finest moment, comes in the form of “The Last Matador Of Bayonne”, a wonderfully desolate ballad, which marries airy emptiness to an intensely theatrical solo.
Elsewhere, even when indulging in some generic roots rock (“You Better Watch Yourself”, “Tennessee Plate”, “Slow Train”), Bonamassa has a knack of adding that extra note, that little tonal sidestep, or simply letting a note ring out that half a second longer, keeping the listener guessing and ensuring that Dust Bowl sounds fresh.
Unfortunately at a very long 63 minutes Dust Bowl tails off with a series of uninspired and frankly unnecessary tracks. Despite this, Bonamassa has offered enough satisfying thrills to suggest that his mid career resurgence won’t be ending any time soon. You feel he’s one judicious editor away from creating one of the great blues albums of the 21st Century.
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