Joe Bonamassa ‘Different Shades of Blue’ album -Three Best Buy (USA) Tracks Review

(J&R Adventures)

Joe Bonamassa is a musician, singer and songwriter from New York who from a young age has been fortunate enough to play with B.B. King and forge a fan-base because of his raw talent. Over the years he has really divided the blues community (not intentionally I might add) as people say ‘He’s over-exposed’, or ‘He’s white so he doesn’t understand the blues’, or ‘He’s too flashy at his shows with his band and his lights’. He has been portrayed as ‘the Marmite/Vegemite man of the blues rock world’ (People either love or hate him) and he was a lucky kid who had a wealthy family and he’s just skated through over the years. Now, if you look at interviews with Joe circa.2013-late 2014 you can see that a lot of this is not the case and he is a man who loves what he does and is very humbled by the opportunities he has been given and the worldwide fans he has accumulated.

He has released his new studio album ‘Different Shades of Blue’ and it has reached the Billboard chart in America and various charts in Europe and the United Kingdom. Reviewers have given it acclaim and star-ratings galore and although Joe is pleased that people like his new piece of work he is not affected by any of this as it doesn’t stop him from doing what he’s doing and he has said in interviews ‘I don’t want there to be any hits on this record’.

When the album was released in America, mega store chain Best Buy wanted Joe Bonamassa, his band and his producer and long-time friend Kevin Shirley to record three extra tracks for the album so that Best Buy could have three tracks exclusive to them. Now I’m not going to go into the thought process behind this or rant about how ‘Corporate America and the Western world don’t care about the music just the money it can make’. I’m a twenty-one year old guy who likes music and has no authority or say in any of these types of deals so for me to comment would be pointless.

People in the States were angry at this ‘exclusive’ as they had released the 11-track version first and then announced the 14-track edition which caused people to flood social media with their anger and direct it at Joe specifically as his name is on the cover so it must be his decision and his fault.

Of course it’s not as he is the man who writes the songs, plays the guitar and tours the world. He isn’t in a boardroom with a laser-pointer and a music demographic chart saying ‘This is what the kids want!’ whilst stroking a Groucho Marx type moustache.

I was fortunate enough to have my friend Dennis in America travel to a Best Buy and send me a copy of this album and I just wanted to say thank you very much to him for taking the time to do that. I decided I wanted to review these three tracks specifically for everyone, so here goes;

Scarlet Town

Reese Wynans (keyboards/organ) and Anton Fig (drums) build up a walking beat with Carmine Rojas (bass) tying it all together. In the track Joe goes onto explaining Scarlet Town and its inhabitants like a film narrator as his guitar solos just soar. I assume it is based on a real place but I’m not entirely sure, however  it does create images of saloon bars, horse tying posts and various cactus (or cacti) all surrounded by a midnight black sky. It does put you on edge a little as you think something is gonna jump out at you like a coyote or armadillo.

Devil You Don’t Know

Now this is something straight out of a ZZ Top unreleased tracks collection. I wanted be surprised if I found out Billy Gibbons featured on this as an uncredited guest. It feels quite country-rock which is great because the Acoustic Evening at The Vienna Opera House has allowed him to open up his sound and not be pigeonholed as the ‘blues guy’.

Black Irish Eyes

Joe Bonamassa has been strongly influenced by Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, The Who, The Rolling Stones and other English guitarists. However, one individual that stands out is Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher and maybe I could be reading too much into this, but this track could some musical nod to him and a thank you for all that Joe has learnt from him. The intro does remind me of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Start Me Up’ and the overall song includes hints of ZZ Top’s ‘Legs’. I can see blues purists shaking their heads in shame at these bonus tracks but no one can like everything and if everyone did then music journalists would be out of a job, fan forums would be shut down and artists wouldn’t be able to challenge themselves and the public as everything they do would be accepted straight away.

In summary, it is a shame that these tracks are not standard album tracks as they really should be. But instead of being frustrated that one country gets this and another country gets something else shouldn’t we all just  be grateful that Joe Bonamassa has come back with a new album which is filled with well-written songs, accomplished musicians,  tracks that have been produced with great time and care and a guitarist whose playing helps inspire a new generation of musicians.

Glenn Sargeant