Review: Bonamassa’s Dust Bowl Clapton-esque

March 22, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

Bonamassa_DustBowl_coverIt’s no secret that I like Joe Bonamassa. The guy is flying the flag – of blues, blues-rock and classic rock. Works hard too. Tours his butt off and puts out new music like bands used to do in the old days: Black Rock about a year ago, Black Country Communion (they’re touring, so get tix asap) about 7 months ago and now his latest, Dust Bowl.

That right there’s enough, let alone the facts that he’s a great guit-player, and has great ears for tone.

Seriously: If you’re a guitar player, what’s not to like?

Rhetorical question. Now to Dust Bowl, which as it happens hit the streets today.


If you know Joe’s style and history, here’s what you’d expect from a new album: a mix of styles, probably a mix of originals and covers, good guitar-playing, good tone and a well-produced album. Dust Bowl delivers on those expectations – in a Clapton-like way.

That’s a big-sounding statement, so let me explain.

Joe is the “white bluesman,” if you will, of the day, as Clapton and SRV were in their days. Of course Clapton’s still around, but he’s long since gone down the AOR road (Adult Oriented Rock). Don’t jump on me here: Yep, he’s done some blues albums, some nice work, but there’s that AOR polish on it all.

And that’s what I hear on Dust Bowl (ymmv). In other words, Joe never really grabs me by the throat with this one – which, as always, I say as a rock guy, not a hardcore blues fan. That doesn’t make Dust Bowl bad. Absolutely not – it’s easily worth the $10 (that’s a trip to McDonald’s for crying out loud!).

Call me crazy, but at times Joe’s guitar-playing actually sounds like Clapton too.

So is this an “evolution” or “maturing” – the terms music reviewers tend to throw at albums like this? No idea. That’s not a question for me to answer, and I can see Joe potentially deciding to go any direction in the future: a rock album here, a hardcore blues album there, etc.

I think he’s just doing what feels right at the time, and making albums that are different from one another, which he’s said is his goal.

Track by Track

So with that intro, here are brief notes on the tracks. Joe quotes are from

1. Slow Train

It’s 6:50 of classic Bonamassa. A modern blues tune, lots of guitar, good opener. I also like the drums on this one. Anton Fig on the skins on this album – he’s awesome.

About the slide part, Joe said: “I found a black ’71 [Strat] with a three-bolt neck. It was really bright and glassy sounding…had more of a Ry Cooder slide sound. I tuned it to an open F# minor and played it through a Marshall Artist 30 Combo, and it sounded massive.”

2. Dust Bowl

Starts out with a Mike Campbell “You Got Lucky”-like solo. Nice beat. Trem guitar pedaltone in the background, slide solo, interesting. This one grows on me every time I hear it.

3. Tennessee Plates

A fo’ sho’ country tune. John Hiatt sings, Vince Gill on guitar, I’m assuming Joe plays guitar on this too, also sounds like two guys singing….

Joe says, “The Nashville sessions guys were great. They’re like machines: They come in, do two or three sessions a day, and they don’t make mistakes. Boom – they’re done. Total pros. But they play with great feel. They have a magic all their own. Vince was amazing. He let me play his white 1953 Tele, which is the iconic Vince Gill guitar.”

4. The Meaning of the Blues

A cover, the highlight of which for me is Joe sounding Jeff Beck-ish on the solo. Not crazy Jeff Beck-ish, but Joe Beck-ish, if you get my drift. Joe can play anything, man!

I guess I wasn’t imagining it because Joe said: ““It was another excuse for me to bring the Strat out again. Kevin [producer] said he wanted a bit of a Jeff Beck melody, where I kind of play one note and use the whammy bar. I’d done something like that before, melodies that were vaguely ’Beck-ish,’ so I came up with parts that sounded really cool.

“There’s a lot of interplay between me and Anton on it. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the record.”

5. Black Lung Heartache

Love the way this tune gets hard (baritone electric, assuming the Music Man) in the middle. My favorite tune on the album.

Joe: “We recorded a rough version of it, and then we laid down the middle section. I did a slide solo, too. Kevin did a mix, we listened to it, and we were lovin’ it – everything was perfect. We came back in the next day to discover that the engineer had erased the mix by accident. All we had was the rough version, so that’s what you hear on the record.”

Btw, the mandolin-sounding instrument used on this and other tunes is the Greek baglamas.

6. You Better Watch Yourself

Cranked up version of this blues tune. Wah all over this: riff, solo.

Joe: “I used the old Strat again. Actually, I wound up breaking the tremolo bar clean out of its cavity – that’s always fun [laughs].

“I used a George Tripp-modified Crybaby wah pedal. George has built me like six or seven wahs – the guy’s incredible. I don’t use the effect a lot, but when I do, I want people to know it. I go for a big sweep, almost like what you used to get with those Morley Power Wahs – all that tremendous high end. It’s huge and dramatic…which is the idea, really.”

7. The Last Matador Of Bayonne
[not Bayonne, NJ…]

Slow blues with a…trumpet…riffing in the background. Love the way Kevin Shirley sticks that stuff in. Absolutely works, and makes it more interesting.

Joe: “After I cut the track, I met up with this amazing musician, Tony Cedras, who’s played with Paul Simon, and he came to the studio and listened to it. He put down this incredible trumpet part, absolutely brilliant. It really added the right amount of pathos. Now I can’t picture the cut without the trumpet.”

[Pathos is not one of the Three Musketeers…. Sorry, getting punchy….]

8. Heartbreaker “featuring Glenn Hughes”

I couldn’t wait to get to this tune. I assumed it would be a rocker, got some mild wood thinking it might be a remake of the Zep tune…. I’ll let Joe tell it:

“No, it’s not the Led Zeppelin song. It’s the Free song of the same name. I just love the riff. And that Simon Kirke drumbeat gets me every time. Glenn Hughes does a vocal cameo, and he’s simply unreal.”

Not as raw as the Free tune, of course:

Paul Kossoff apparently never played with his guitar vol on 10, so Joe didn’t either on this one – but his amp must’ve been up there to get the hair around the notes he did.

More from Joe: “I used a Les Paul on it. I didn’t do anything tricky. On a cut like this, you use your guitar’s volume control on 4, and maybe you turn it up to 6 for lead. That’s it. Very simple but very effective. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t channeling Paul Kossoff in some way. Whenever I pick up a Les Paul, I think about him.”

9. No Love On The Street

Another cover, not sure when it was written but sounds like ’80s movie soundtrack lyrics. Given that, I can’t imagine the original was as good as this version. Lots of wah, lots of organ. This one has been growing on me too.

10. The Whale That Swallowed Jonah

This is a great tune. Uptempo, also classic Bonamassa. Joe said in an interview that his father loves the tune and advised him to play it live. Definitely.

11. Sweet Rowena

A Vince Gill tune, and Vince sings and plays on it.

Joe: “It’s a great number. I kind of played the BB King role. Vince sings lead, and man, he’s such an incredible vocalist and guitarist. I didn’t even try to go toe-to-toe with him. That’d just be plain foolish [laughs]. But like I said, when you’re working with an artist of his caliber, it makes you better.

“Vince is on the left side of the speakers, guitar-wise and vocal-wise, and I’m singing and playing guitar on the right. It’s a total fun deal.”

I can see and hear Clapton playing and singing this one.

12. Prisoner

To me, an odd choice to end the album with, and not because it’s a cover of a Barbra Streisand tune. Seriously. It’s just that it’s sort of slow, though it does get heavy.

Remember, I’m a rock guy – hit me hard at the outset, and get me out the same way.

At 6:49, this is the second-longest tune on the album (behind the opener), and I’m glad that this one has an extended outro, a thing I’ve really enjoyed on the previous two Bonamassa solo albums.

Final Word

I like Dust Bowl. Love parts of it, like it overall. It sounds like a record made by a successful blues-oriented guitar player, and after multiple listens still reminds me of a later Clapton album.

Joe is a huge Clapton fan, so I hope he takes that as intended – a compliment. I can’t really think of anyone else or any other times where I’ve listened to an album and thought: Wow, that sounds like Clapton. But again, that’s what Dust Bowl is to me: Joe’s most Clapton-like record.

Category: Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa, Les Paul, Marshall, mp3/CD/DVD, Reviews, Strat

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  1. Ted says:

    I was interested in this articles reference to Bonamassa’s “Clapton” tone. I am from Boston and several months ago, I sold a 1988 Fender Clapton strat to Guitar Center. A few weeks after that I went back into the store and one of the employees informed me that Joe Bonamassa had come in and bought the strat that I had sold them. It was Torino red and had the stock gold Lace Sensors. I just thought I would put this out there to add to any information.

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