By Mike O’Cull
Guitar master Joe Bonamassa extends his already-considerable body of work with a new album, Royal Tea, that comes down October 23rd, 2020 via Provogue/ Mascot Label Group. The record is inspired by Joe’s British blues/rock heroes Jeff Beck, John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and Cream and was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in England. Royal Tea brings Bonamassa full-circle to the type of British blues he discovered as a kid in his father’s record collection. Those sounds were formative to the 12-year-old future guitar star and set him on the musical journey he is still traveling today. Bonamassa is a well-known risk taker and his fans will find this set to be another amazing surprise from the wide-ranging guitarist.
The ten new originals on Royal Tea were co-written by Bonamassa and important British artists including former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden, ex-Cream lyricist Pete Brown, and national-treasure piano man Jools Holland. Bonamassa’s long-time producer Kevin Shirley and regular touring band, Anton Fig (drums), Michael Rhodes (bass), and Reese Wynans (keys), flew in for the recording sessions in London and helped him craft a set of music that sounds inherently British. “I love their take on the blues…plain and simple,” Bonamassa says. “I find it dangerous, full of joyous naiveté and frankly just outright greedy in both its indulgence of the spoils (aka the American Black Culture) and their willingness to play their way out of post-World War II factory life and into the late 50’s and early 60’s Britannia.”
From the orchestral intro to the record’s first song, “When One Door Opens,” Bonamassa absolutely nails the classic 70s British blues/rock vibe he’s chasing. Big, dirty riffs combine with more delicate, lyrical passages and strong melodies to create an artful and engaging listening experience. His guitar tones are full of old-school overdrive and fit the track perfectly. Joe clearly understands this style from the inside out and makes it his own without turning it into something it shouldn’t be. British blues interpreters were how Joe initially discovered blues music and he wears their legacies well.
The title track, “Royal Tea,” is a gritty, slower blues that was inspired by a segment on Good Morning Britain about Harry and Meghan’s departure from palace life. Joe’s message is that if the Royal fable plays out like the song, it will concretely prove that the blues is a universal language that reaches beyond cultural, economic and racial differences and resides in the human soul. His playing is strident and full of sinew here and his vocals are emotional and convincing.
“Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye” is Bonamassa’s epic ballad of the record and the first single taken from it. Although he’s known for his blazing guitar chops, Joe’s more restrained and melodic playing at the front of this track is some of his best work from these sessions. He does do some ripping in the more energetic middle section but his Slowhand moments definitely steal this show. “Savannah” is an acoustic-based cut with a hint of gospel to it that channels a gently romantic mood and again showcases Joe’s mellow side. He takes to this more singer-songwriter material quite nicely and should do more of it.
“High Class Girl” is a lowdown blues cut built on the “Help Me/Green Onions” groove that’s sweet and authentic. The band swings hard and gives Joe plenty of space to rage and roar. It’s the kind of pub-shaking track that sent the blues back to America in the 60s and will make you want to get loud with it. Royal Tea closes with “Lonely Boy,” a horn-soaked jump blues rave-up that will send you off into the night in fine fashion and features some of Joe’s tastiest playing on the album. Bonamassa is a huge talent and a true believer in the power and relevance of this thing of ours. His British inflection on Royal Tea is a smashing success that will take you across the pond in a hurry.
Watch “Royal Tea”
Joe Bonamassa’s new album Royal Tea is released by Provogue/Mascot Label Group Friday Oct. 23rd.
Pre-order link US for Royal Tea
Pre-order link UK/Europe for Royal Tea
Joe Bonamassa Online