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The Sleep Eazys - Easy To Buy, Hard To Sell (Album Review)

Wednesday, 15 April 2020 Written by Simon Ramsay

Stepping down from his blues-rock throne to flex some seriously eclectic muscles, Joe Bonamassa’s new side project is a full-blown instrumental affair intended to pay tribute to one of the most underappreciated guitarists of all time: the late Danny Gatton. Proving that any musical endeavour will reflect the personality of its creator, Bonamassa’s strengths and weaknesses are evident on an album that, although full of wonderfully performed compositions, is let down by a lack of cohesion and unfocused execution.

For the uninitiated, Gatton was a mentor and huge inspiration to a young Bonamassa before tragically taking his own life in 1994. Plying his patented brand of ‘redneck jazz’, the American fretboard wizard excelled at everything from country and jazz to rockabilly, soul and beyond. As such, ‘Easy To Buy, Hard To Sell’ is a record that, while not religiously based around Gatton’s material, honours his genre-hopping spirit over nine exceptionally well executed covers.

Occupying the producer’s chair for the first time, Bonamassa wisely recruited tried and trusted collaborators to bring this passion project to life.

Alongside Anton Fig and Michael Rhodes on drums and bass respectively, keyboard legend Reese Wynans, Lee Thornburg (trumpet) and Paulie Cerra (saxophone) all bring their A game. Jimmy Hall, on harmonica, and multi-instrumentalist John Jorgensen, meanwhile, add a fresh spark to what’s a predominantly jazz-based party.

Move is a tap-dancing sprite full of twinkle and twirl that sticks close to Hank Garland’s version, while Gatton’s Fun House is revamped as a swinging big band romp that delivers a walloping ‘50s kiss despite lacking the original's mischievous sense of the strange.  Elsewhere, Link Wray’s Ace Of Spades hits the surf-rock afterburners, Tony Joe White’s Polk Salad Annie blazes a feisty trail fuelled by wonderful harmonica soloing and King Curtis’s Blue Nocturne illustrates just how mature Bonamassa’s playing is throughout this record.

Ditching the guitar hero moves for a more considered approach, he allows his ensemble to take centre stage on the likes of Jimmy Bryant’s So Ha, a stunning fusion of cinematic crescendos and bluegrass, while the whole band lock into a swaggering charge on TV theme Hawaiian Eye before painting sun-kissed calypso vistas during its chill out breakdown. Better yet, Bond is a brooding reworking of John Barry’s immense score to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that adds some appropriately mean fretwork to complement the sinister and cool spy motif.

If those elements reflect Bonamassa at his best, the guitarist’s lack of experience as a producer is equally evident. The album may be sonically flawless but the choice of material doesn’t do the intended purpose justice, with some songs feeling like completely random choices that neither fit the overarching template or make sense when it comes to honouring Gatton. Not adhering to a strong blueprint highlights why Kevin Shirley has been so successful in shepherding Bonamassa’s solo career, letting the guitarist do the musical heavy lifting while making sure everything gels and flows within the context of a singular vision.  

If you don’t sweat that kind of stuff, though, and just want to hear great musicians operating at the peak of their collective powers, this niche 33 minute effort will be right up the jazz club alley of anyone who enjoys Bonamassa’s exceptional ability as a bandleader and his desire to serve up a cocktail of stylistic liqueurs that, track for track, go down nice and smooth.

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