Joe Bonamassa has made a career of playing the blues, covering the classics and handling his own originals. From one album to the next, he has shown why he is one of the leading names in the blues community. Now with the release of his latest album Royal Tea on Oct. 23, Bonamassa has completely cemented his place not only in the upper echelon of the blues community, but the music community in whole. That is because Bonamassa has branched out so much in this record, opting to offer so much more than his standard blues compositions. This is well worth discussing in itself. The record’s production adds its own touch to the presentation and will also be addressed here. The sequencing puts the final touch to this album’s presentation. When it is considered along with the noted production and musical arrangements, the whole make Royal Tea a work that proves Joe Bonamassa is music royalty.
Joe Bonamassa’s latest album Royal Tea is without question, one of his greatest albums to date if not his greatest work yet. It is a presentation that shows so much growth from the famed blues rock guitarist/singer. That is proven throughout the course of the 10-song record’s 53-minute run time. Rather than just sticking with the standard blues style works for which he has come to be known, Bonamassa opted this time to branch out. That is evidenced right off the top in the album’s opener, ‘When One Door Opens.’ This nearly eight-minute epic composition opens with a broad, symphonic arrangement, complete with strings, crash cymbals, and horns. That bombastic opening gradually gives way to a very contemplative, introspective stylistic approach whose chromatic scales and vocal harmonies are more rock ballad-esque than blues. As the song progresses into its “third movement” (the very fact that the song is so in-depth displaying so many styles is itself impressive. That me blends them together so well is even more worthy of applause) things change over to Bonamassa’s more bluesy style before switching back to the noted contemplative ballad-style approach to close out the song. There is even a hint of Holst’s ‘Mars: The Bringer of War’ mixed in for good measure. Whether that was intentional is anyone’s guess. Regardless, the subtle addition of that element adds so much to the song in its own right. The whole of this composition shows clearly that it is anything but what audiences have come to expect from Joe Bonamassa. It is just one of the works that exhibits his growth in this album. Just as interesting to note as this song is the clear influence of certain other equally well-known acts in other songs.
Listening to the album’s title song, the Beatles influence is undeniable, especially as the song opens. From there, there is a touch of Jimi Hendrix influence. Considering that Bonamassa recorded this album at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, none of this should come as a surprise. Hendrix rose first to fame in England before the United States. And of course, The Beatles are synonymous with Abbey Road Studios. ‘High Class Girl’ meanwhile immediately lends itself to comparisons to Booker T and the MGs’ famous hit ‘Green Onions’ what with the combination of its guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. The side-by-side is a near mirror image, yet even with that in mind, Bonamassa still manages to make this song about a man who is crazy for a woman who is out of his league into its own composition. On yet another note, ‘Lonely Boy’ echoes influences of Brian Setzer and Stray Cats with its rockabilly style arrangement. That Bonamassa was able to take influences from his equally well-known contemporaries and still create his own unique compositions is just one more way in which this record’s musical content proves so important to its whole. He also branches out into some other realms, and in the process makes his own unique compositions.
Case in point of the noted statement about Bonamassa branching out even more is ‘Savannah,’ which closes out the album. This song is a distinctly country/bluegrass work that will appeal widely to fans of acts, such as Steep Canyon Rangers and Zac Brown Band. The subtle use of the keyboards against the vocal harmonies, drums, mandolin and guitar makes the song such an enjoyable work. By contrast, ‘Lookout Man!’ is a bass heavy modern rock style composition whose heavy guitars, bass, and rums will appeal to fans of acts, such as Audioslave and Small Town Titans. The addition of Bonamassa’s gritty vocal delivery and the harmonica to the mix adds even appeal more to the arrangement. ‘A Conversation With Alice,’ the album’s lead single, throws lends itself to similarities to works from the likes of maybe Foreigner if not other veteran rock acts. Simply put, these songs in themselves show even more the breadth of Joe Bonamassa’s talents and abilities. They show, along with the other noted arrangements, that he is not just a one trick pony whose bread and butter is just the blues. It shows that he can play any style of music any time. Hopefully with that in mind, audiences will hear him take that into account even more when he releases his next album. Now taking all of this into account, the wide range of styles of music exhibited throughout Royal Tea make up collectively just one part of what makes the album so enjoyable. The album’s production adds another positive touch to its presentation.
The production that went into Royal Tea’s presentation is so pivotal because, again, Joe Bonamassa branched out so much throughout this album. ‘Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye’ is a good example of the impact of the production. This slow, bluesy work, is clearly a work about a broken relationship. The song’s arrangement adds so much to its impact. Listeners will note the subtlety in the guitar and bass balance and the way the drums cut through here when they listen closely. The way each element is balanced in the song’s verses versus the more bombastic choruses serves well to translate the emotion in each moment as the song’s subject is going through so many thoughts.
‘When One Door Opens’ is another example of what makes the album’s production so important. That is due in part to the symphonic element in the song’s opening bars. This is something that Bonamassa has done rarely if ever. That means that a subtle backing element, such as a cymbal crash had to be really controlled. Even in the song’s more subtle moments, the vocals and drums had to be balanced with the equally subtle string arrangement and bells (yes, bells) to make sure the fullest impact was achieved, which it was.
‘Beyond The Silence’ is one more example of what makes this album’s production so important. The song, whose arrangement is a very western style work, conjures thoughts of Bon Jovi’s hit song ‘Blaze of Glory’ and Blues Saraceno’s ‘Evil Ways.’ The song stars and ends in very brooding fashion, with thunder setting the stage. The subtle way in which that thunder rumbles “in the distance” is powerful in its subtlety. The equally subtle use of the organ, drums, piano, guitar, bass and vocals makes for such high levels of engagement. As the song enters its chorus, the more energetic approach makes for a stark contrast to the more subdued verses. That contrast adds even more impact to the song. The work that clearly went in to balance the two moods paid off, maximizing the impact. When this is considered along with the examined production in the other songs noted here and the rest of the album’s entries, the whole of the production clearly plays an important part to the album’s presentation. It is still not the last of the record’s most important elements. The sequencing rounds out the album’s most important elements.
The sequencing of Royal Tea is important to examine because it ensures the energies in the album are balanced. Audiences will be glad to know that the record’s sequencing is just as successful as its production and songs in general. The record starts so strongly in the multi-movement ‘When One Door Opens.’ The energy stays high even as the stylistic approach changes in the album’s title track. From there, things pull back noticeably in ‘Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye’ before picking right back up in ‘Lookout Man!’ and carrying through to ‘Beyond The Silence.’ That song in question has already been addressed. ‘Lonely Boy’ considerably changes things again, picking up the fun and energy once more before the album sets listeners gently on another shore in ‘Savannah.’ This simple, laid back country/bluegrass track is, again, so unlike anything that Bonamassa has ever composed. It is a wonderful finale for the album, especially considering the musical journey on which audiences embark in listening to the album. Simply put, the album’s energy rises and falls at all of the right points throughout the course of this album. This is a tribute to the time and thought that went into the album’s sequencing. It assures listeners will remain just as engaged and entertained for this aspect as for the rest of the album’s aspects. Keeping all of that in mind, Royal Tea proves itself to be a solid new offering from Joe Bonamassa and potentially his best work to date.
Joe Bonamassa’s new album Royal Tea is an impressive new offering from the veteran blues-rock guitarist/singer. It is a record that is largely unlike anything that he has ever presented. That is presented in part through its musical arrangements, which toss aside the standard blues songs for which he has come to be known in favor of a more diverse selection of styles. The production of those works and their sequencing puts the final touch to the record, collectively speaking. They ensure listeners will remain engaged and entertained through the presentation of the arrangements and the balance in their energies. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the album. All things considered, they make Royal Tea royalty among Joe Bonamassa’s catalog. Royal Tea is available now. More information on the album is available along with all of Joe Bonamassa’s latest news at:
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