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Joe Bonamassa - Time Clocks (Album Review)

Thursday, 04 November 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

When he first broke out, Joe Bonamassa’s six-string abilities were exploited to position him as a contemporary guitar deity for fans of blues-rock to worship. Over the last decade, however, his increasingly potent original material has taken centre stage. Posters for his gigs may declare them ‘The Guitar Event of the Year,’ but with superb albums like ‘Time Clocks’ at his disposal, that snappy slogan only tells part of the story.

Following 2018’s exceptional ‘Redemption,’ which saw Bonamassa adopting a confessional singer-songwriter approach while continuing to twist blues-rock into dizzying new shapes, last year’s ‘Royal Tea,’ made to honour the British blues legends he grew up worshipping, felt like a  backwards step.  

It was a fine effort but without the strong thematic backbone of its predecessor—and due to a failure to fully commit to the blueprint—it didn’t deliver the same thrillingly synergistic musical and narrative journey. ‘Time Clocks’, instead, is the successor ‘Redemption’ deserved.

Boasting a healthy confidence that just about lands on the right side of arrogance, Bonamassa teases us throughout. Although most songs reference both his past work and numerous genre staples, just when you think he’s defaulted to cliché, formula or homage, the rug is swiftly pulled away with dazzling results.

Notches, for example, reinvigorates the swaggering Clapton riff that drove Blind Faith’s Had To Cry Today before going a little psychedelic a la Oh Beautiful! by doubling that stinging motif with sparkling sitar-esque counterpoints, while unleashing an immense attitudinal chorus, pumping rhythmic bursts and unexpected structural twists. It becomes a powerhouse fusion of past and present that thrives in its own right.

Throughout ‘Time Clocks’ Bonamassa integrates a range of varied textures to amplify the record’s well-travelled lyrical focus. The title track is a triumphant case in point. Melancholic and reflective southern country at its inception, it swells to an expressive, multi-layered chorus that could be cathartic stadium-gospel in the making.  

Elsewhere, Questions and Answers’ progressive blues-funk gives way to mariachi flavours and the bombastic Curtain Call, think mid-70s Led Zeppelin underscoring a movie about warships, seamlessly slides into heart-on-sleeve intimacy thanks to its dusky refrain. Magically weaving together renaissance folk, brooding soul and a coruscating riff that propels another imperious pay off, The Loyal Kind is an outstanding composition that could have been a total mess in other hands.

Every track here not only contributes to the overarching story but, thanks to the sharpest hooks he’s ever written, and Bob Clearmountain’s wonderful mix, The Heart That Never Waits and Hanging On A Loser could have been potential hit singles in years gone by. Enhanced by a constant stream of spine-tingling backing vocals, the record’s relentless earworm choruses are as immediate as any classic pop hook you’d care to mention.  

Exploring notions of Father Time and mortality, Bonamassa’s superb storytelling recalls complex relationships with others, himself and the industry he’s taken by storm as he reflects on his years traversing the globe. If any up and coming fretboard wizards want to make their stint on planet Earth as memorable and influential as Bonamassa’s, ‘Time Clocks’ proves that great guitar playing means absolutely nothing until it’s utilised to enrich and enhance first rate songwriting. 

Joe Bonamassa Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed April 20 2022 - GLASGOW SEC Armadillo
Fri April 22 2022 - CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena
Sat April 23 2022 - BRIGHTON Centre
Thu May 05 2022 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall
Fri May 06 2022 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall

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