Sloe Gin

Joe Bonamassa

J&R Adventures, 2007

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


After the well-received You & Me brought him a larger audience, Joe Bonamassa took some time crafting his next record, writing songs (and choosing smart covers) that branched out his sound and style, turning down the volume a bit and keeping the guitar theatrics to a minimum. The result was a No. 1 Billboard blues chart hit for many weeks and yet another good album in a career full of them up to this point.

Note, however, that this is the moment Bonamassa opted for his Led Zeppelin III phase, eschewing much of the tricks of his previous albums for something calmer, more acoustic, a little more ambitious and deep. It’s not terribly memorable the way some of his other albums are, but it is a necessary stepping stone for a true artist trying to expand his sound. Going forward each of Joe’s albums would have a heady mix of loud and soft, fire and ice, smoke and restless ambition not content to churn out blues-rock clichés alone.

So with that said, Sloe Gin is not one of the man’s most consistent albums, but it is one of his most interesting. The disc is bookended with two acoustic guitar pieces; the opener is a roiling country-folk piece with some impressive fretwork over pounding piano chords and no percussion (until halfway through) called “Ball Peen Hammer,” while the closer “India” is as instrumental and Eastern-inspired as that title suggests. The clanking chains of Ten Years After’s “One Of These Days” complement the snarling guitar lines until the more straightforward verse comes in, and while Bonamassa is content to close the song with a meandering classic rock jam, it doesn’t undo the stellar first half of his take on the song.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Dirt In My Pocket” is far closer to Bonamassa’s wheelhouse up to this point, but it’s sung with a conviction and confidence that wouldn’t have been available half a decade prior. The epic midpoint of the disc is the eight-minute title cut, a cover of an old Tim Curry song (written by Bob Ezrin and Michael Kamen) that turns out to be a showcase. Bonamassa pours himself into the vocals and then lets loose with a long and arresting guitar solo as the music (and strings) swell behind him. It could easily veer into self-parody were it not for the heartfelt singing; unfortunately, the natural ending for the song is a false ending, and another three minutes of instrumental work follows that essentially repeats the first section without adding to the song.

The acoustic “Around The Bend” is a low-key highlight, a travelogue where you can feel the miles, while “Black Night” (an old Charles Brown tune) is probably the most classic blues song here and one of the few times (outside of the title track) where Joe allows himself a virtuosic guitar solo. “Seagull,” John Mayall’s “Another Kind Of Love,” and “Richmond” amount to filler – though the same well played, well-produced, energetic filler found on every Bonamassa disc.

Bonamassa would return to his blues-rock brimstone two years later on the epochal Ballad Of John Henry – much like how Zeppelin got back to it on their untitled fourth album, albeit wiser than before – leaving Sloe Gin as probably the most curious and diverse album in his catalog. The lack of memorable songs keeps it from a first-tier effort, but those who lump Bonamassa in with other latter-day blues rockers (Shepherd, Vaughan, Lang, etc.) will be surprised at the diversity and breadth of songwriting and cover choices here. You may not play this one as much as Dust Bowl or Had To Cry Today, but you’ll be fitfully satisfied when you do.

Rating: B-

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