Joe Bonamassa has moved far past his initial incarnation as a kid guitar wiz with a Stevie Ray Vaughan fascination, and has developed into an elegantly reverent guitarist and a fine singer as well, bringing a little R&B blue-eyed soul to the blues. For Different Shades of Blue, Bonamassa co-wrote songs with veteran Nashville songwriters Jeffrey Steele, Gary Nicholson, James House, Jerry Flowers, and Jonathan Cain, then took 11 of the songs and tracked them in Las Vegas at Studio at the Palms with producer Kevin Shirley and a solid band of studio musicians including Reese Wynans (organ, piano), Carmine Rojas (bass), Michael Rhodes (bass), Anton Fig (drums, percussion), Lenny Castro (percussion), Lee Thornburg (trumpet, trombone), Ron Dziubla (saxophone), the Bovaland Orchestra (strings), and background vocalists Doug Henthorn and Melanie Williams. Bonamassa used 20 different vintage guitars for the project, along with 13 different amps, and lists each one in the liner notes. Consequently, this is an album about guitar tones, as each song demands its own and Bonamassa empties the tool kit. The best songs here, like the poppy and R&B-laced "Love Ain't a Love Song," the hard-driving honky tonk blues "Never Give All Your Heart," and "Trouble Town," a slice of horn-driven garage blues, are vintage Bonamassa, blending all of his influences, from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, and Rory Gallagher to Jimi Hendrix and Hank Garland, into his own voice for the blues. The clear highlight here, and undoubtedly already or soon to be a high point of Bonamassa's live shows, is the stately and powerful "Oh Beautiful!," which alternates between hushed vocals and slashing, soaring electric guitar breaks, a sort of 21st century version of Blind Willie Johnson adorned with tone washes and blistering guitar. It's a striking and timeless recording, and a great blues song by anyone's standards. The problem here, though, is that with the exception of the above songs, and maybe one or two others, the songs on Different Shades of Blue shade toward the generic side of things, and no matter how wonderful and gorgeous the guitar tones may be, it's hard to make a generic song sing memorably.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett