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Artist:     The Sleep Eazys (Joe Bonamassa)

Album:     Easy to Buy, Hard to Sell

Label:     J&R Adventures

Release Date:     04.10.2020

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Exceptional talent is one thing. Joe Bonamassa takes that steps further by reliably surprising his fans; the regular surprises keeps him fascinating, and enlarges his base. Regular Joe releases albums in a variety of guises at four times the rate of anyone, it seems—altogether, one heck of a plan.

Bonamassa’s stock-in-trade derives from the huge realm of blues-rock; post-war Chicago, Brit-Invasion, rootsy and richly-orchestrated offshoots, super-charged R&B with singer Beth Hart, and even blazing retro-progressive metal with Black Country Communion—Bonamassa plays all those forms as if born to them, ripping on his guitar with precision and soul in each context, and on every song.

As with the three albums’ worth of rubbery funk he made with his band Rock Candy Funk Party, this Sleep Eazys record rings out from somewhere entirely different—the surprise factor in full fireworks flower. Underlying elements of the blues can be discerned in a few of these grooves, but this tribute to Danny Gatton and his special ways goes way out to the reaches, and lands in a very cool spot every time. That Bonamassa was good friends with the late Washington, DC guitar legend shouldn’t come as a surprise, given Bonamassa’s wide-open ears and smokin’ proficiency, even as a kid. But he’s never gone anywhere near something such as the “Hawaiian Eye” TV show theme. On that, Bonamassa and his big band roll a big wave of surf over Gatton’s “Redneck Jazz” style of playing, which incorporated blues, rockabilly, country, and jazz. Bonamassa says he only now feels ready, 30 years after meeting Gatton, to be good enough to pay homage like this. I can see why.

Link Wray’s “Ace of Spades” rocks simply enough on the surface, but its propulsive structure has to be exact and soulful at once. It is. John Barry’s “Bond (Her Majesty’s Secret Service)” features more complexity yet, the arrangement both imaginative and true, the intricacies in the playing exalted. Bonamassa leads, but guest guitarist John Jorgenson—a stellar figure in country music—takes a surprising, exceptionally wild solo. Following that massive drama with a shimmying, shaking take on Tony Joe White’s iconic “Polk Salad Annie?” Brilliant, the style dumbfounding, even. Joe Bonamassa was most certainly ready for this. He’s playing guitar, producing, arranging, leading a band, and growing a business like an absolute made-in-the-USA champion.

—Tom Clarke

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