Joe Bonamassa

Driving Towards the Daylight

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He'll never be the new Stevie Ray Vaughan, but at the rate blues-rock (emphasis on the latter) guitarist Joe Bonamassa is going, he can take a stab at being the next Gary Moore. Like the Irish guitarist, Bonamassa is influenced by the British blues-rockers more than the Americans they lifted their licks from. He's also just as prolific; this is his thirteenth album in twelve years and that's not including side projects with Black Country Communion and Beth Hart, and DVDs grabbed from his 200-night-a-year road schedule filled with sweaty, high-energy performances. Makes you tired just reading about it. Bonamassa isn't much of a songwriter so he wisely contributes only four tunes to this disc's eleven, with some relatively obscure deep blues covers from Howlin' Wolf ("Who's Been Talkin'"), Willie Dixon ("I Got All You Need"), and Robert Johnson ("Stones in My Passway") gravitating toward his roots side. Also included are offbeat choices from Bill Withers ("Lonely Town/Lonely Street") and Tom Waits ("New Coat of Paint"). For better or worse, they all end up sounding like Joe Bonamassa tracks, since he feeds them into his leathery rock sensibilities, churning out requisite hot guitar solos whether they serve the song or not. He's left his road-hardened band on the sidelines and calls in top-notch session guys, including Aerosmith's Brad Whitford, David Letterman drummer Anton Fig, and keyboardist Arlen Schierbaum, whose piano and organ add some much-needed R&B attitude to the hard rock attack. Bonamassa even relinquishes lead vocals to Australian Jimmy Barnes, who goes so over the top singing his own "Too Much Ain't Enough Love" it seems like he is auditioning for AC/DC. Longtime producer Kevin Shirley gets a slick, professional sound from these guys, and when everyone is cooking and the material is solid, such as on the grinding Bonamassa original "Dislocated Boy" and the Wolf cover (including a spoken word sample of the blues legend that kicks off the tune), the arrangements and guitars mesh together like whisky and soda. What Bonamassa lacks in a distinctive sound and singing, he makes up for with sheer determination, which is almost enough to push the album from pretty good to pretty great, especially on the horn-enhanced slow blues of "A Place in My Heart" that explodes out of the speakers in a way Gary Moore could summon at will. In other words, this is a keeper if you've already bought into the guitarist's more-is-more approach that has served him well thus far, and he shows no signs of abandoning it now.

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