Time Clocks

Joe Bonamassa

J&R Adventures, 2021


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


This is probably the closest Joe Bonamassa will ever come to making a prog-rock record.

The main entrée is still blues rock, played very loud, with stellar guitar solos. No need to reinvent the wheel. But this time, Bonamassa – after an 18-month recording hiatus – entered a New York studio for 9 days to record a nine-song, 57-minute album that ever so slightly pushes his sound forward.

Most of the songs hit between the six- and seven-minute mark, but conversely Bonamassa scaled back his usual guitar/pedal arsenal this time around, hitting the listener instead with more epic song structures and more worldly influences. It’s quite a different approach from Royal Tea or Redemption, and is the better for it.

“The Loyal Kind” has a folkish intro and penny-whistle theme that runs through it, interspersed with a hard-rocking verse and confident chorus (backing vocalists Mahalia Barnes and Juanita Tippins are crucial to this album). The song came from the my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Royal Tea writing sessions, and on that album one suspects it would have been just a blues rock song; the addition of the vocals, the background keyboard, the penny whistle, and the overall scale elevates the track to a higher plane.

A Rickenbacker was used to sound like a sitar on the opening cut “Notches,” which is at heart a Bonamassa blues standard, but that riff is indelible and “miles under my wheels” is a catchy vocal riff. “Questions And Answers” is a good smoky American blues – Bonamassa generally trades in the British sound – and the title cut instills its standard blues with a Pink Floyd influence (Division Bell, but still) and two great guitar solos that give it a cinematic feel.

Granted, not every song pushes the craft forward. “The Heart That Never Waits” cops riffs and even some lyrics/themes from Blues Of Desperation, while “Mind’s Eye,” “Known Unknowns,” and “Waiting On A Loser” could have been on any JB album prior. They’re good, but you’ve heard similar versions before, and they won’t change your mind on the guy.

But the song that rises above those, and makes the album one of JB’s greats, is “Curtain Call,” an epic seven-and-a-half minute cut that employs strings, acoustic and electric guitars, backing vocals, a Middle-Eastern sense of foreboding, and lyrics about not giving up, even when it’s tough: “Into the fire / Against the wind / Up and down and back again / Under the bridge / Over the coals / This is the march of a broken soul.” Once could argue it’s Bonamassa’s “Kashmir,” and that’s a fair comparison; it’s easily the best thing he has done since 2016, if not his career.

Time Clocks is more consequential and ambitious than most of Bonamassa’s work in the last decade, and even if it’s not flawless, it’s still worth a listen for blues rock fans. Or prog-blues-rock fans, if they’re a thing.

Rating: B+

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