Review: Joe Bonamassa – Royal Tea
Provogue/Mascot Label Group (October 23rd 2020)
Reviewer: Peter Scallan
I was first introduced to Joe Bonamassa with the ‘Black Rock‘ album around 2010. It was a purchase made more out of curiosity based on the noise being made about him in the press. Although I was surprised at some of the covers on the album, I absolutely loved it, and eventually got to see him play the Hammersmith Apollo (it will always be the Odeon to me!) a few years later and was totally blown away with the show. Fast forward to the present day and Mr Bonamassa is huge box-office business with endless tours, albums and even blues cruises, with this being his latest opus. This is inspired by his British guitar heroes Jeff Beck, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton and Cream, even featuring co-writes from Cream’s lyricist.
The album opens with the orchestral introduction to ‘When One Door Opens‘ before launching into a slow burning slab of blues, and then dropping into laid back section and then builds up again. Chopping and changing tempos and feels, the song really kicks into a monstrous riff in the faster middle section. It certainly keeps the interest for the full seven and half minutes!
Title track ‘Royal Tea‘ is closer to the blues that JB normally specialises in bouncing along on a great rhythm and with great backing vocals. ‘Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye‘ is a laid back blues ballad but has a stripped back feel to it before bursting into a swinging chorus. Next up is ‘Lookout Man‘ which opens with a distorted bass that is reminiscent in part of Cream. Indeed, this dirty driving bass line drives the song for the most part with almost detuned-sounding guitar parts and harmonica give it a raunchy rock blues feel. ‘High Class Girl‘ has a very 1960s rhythm and blues feel to it with some great organ playing on it and just grooves along.
‘A Conversation With Alice‘ opens up the second half of the ten song standard album offering. Co-written with Bernie Marsden, the song is a clever conglomerate of grooves slowly building both musically and vocally through the verses into the chorus. It’s no surprise this was the lead song off the album as it closest to JB’s usual slick melodic blues rock. Opening with a phased/wah-wah style guitar opening, ‘I Didn’t Think She Would Do It‘ is pacey melodic rocker which just rattles along for four minutes to great effect.
The tempo drops somewhat for ‘Beyond The Silence‘, driven by subtle percussive rhythm initially with a combination of clean and acoustic guitar sounds only briefly bursting into life for the chorus with great impact. It picks up for the middle section before slowly fading back to the laid back groove established at the front end of the song. The tempo and feel change back up to the swinging rhythm and blues of ‘Lonely Boy‘. This also has a 60’s feel to it similar to ‘High Class Girl‘ and has some stonking piano playing courtesy of none other than Jools Holland and a brass section that swings big-style. The last track of this ten song set is ‘Savannah‘ which has an acoustic country feel to it and killer chorus melody. It is a great song, but it doesn’t really feel like a song suited for a last track of an album, which may really be the case as there is a limited version with two additional tracks.
From start to finish this album has a different feel from JB’s most recent studio outputs in my opinion. This has a more stripped back and raunchier feel in terms of the arrangements and production which has really grown on me. But I suppose this should come as no surprise if taking influences from the late sixties British blues explosion, which it certainly sounds steeped in. I could be wrong, but I think this is the first time JB has released an album of all original material with no covers, but if not I stand corrected. Let’s just say Bonamassa fans will be surprised at this album, but they certainly won’t be disappointed! Speaking of which, I must get my order in for the limited edition with the 12 songs!