Joe Bonamassa, Time Clocks

Joe Bonamassa Time Clocks, Provogue

Hot on the heels of Bonamassa’s Royal Tea and Royal Tea Live albums, his tribute to the British rock that has always inspired him, comes the big production, all-guns-blazing Time Clocks.

Apparently Bonamassa originally intended it to be a trio album. It certainly didn’t end up that way. It’s heady stuff, with complex arrangements, full orchestrations, bending of genres and a breathless energy from the first song to the last. There are a couple of blues songs here but by and large it’s a full-blown rock album, not even really blues rock. At times you’re thrown back in the heady days of the huge rock anthems of the 70s, with overtones of Queen and Yes.

Bonamassa has shown huge capacity to absorb the musical influences of rock’s past, but at the same time, Time Clocks is all Joe Bonamassa. His guitar playing is all over it, of course, and his voice seems to improve all the time – it’s expressive, it’s soulful…it’s interesting. But the songs are good too.

With long-time collaborators Kevin Shirley as producer and manager/business partner Roy Weisman as executive produce, the album was recorded in New York City, with Bonamassa’s hugely talented band including Steve Mackey (bass), Lachy Doley (piano), Bunna Lawrie (didgeridoo), Bobby Summerfield (percussion), and Anton Fig (drums and percussion).

After a short, atmospheric, guitar-driven track, Pilgrimage, we are launched into Notches, a heavy rock number, which I’m sure would be good to see performed live, but which, on first listen, I was glad to get through. Things rapidly improved for me with the next three tracks.

The Heart That Never Waits is a terrific blues rock song, enhanced beautifully by the harmonies of Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Prinnie Stevens, who, I’m glad to say, feature quite prominently on the album.

After a few power chords at the top of the title track, Time Clocks, there’s a welcome relief from the pyrotechnics of the first few tracks, with Bonamassa singing sweetly against some nice lap steel. After a minute and a half, the track explodes into a melodic rock odyssey sound. The arrangement on this track I thought was fantastic, and the use of musical dynamics hugely effective.

After the very cool blues rock of Questions and Answers and the classic rock of Curtain Call, we get the pulled-back medieval rock of The Loyal Kind, with its modulating keys and tight harmonies. At this point, I’m imagining how all this is going to sound live and I’m glad I’ve secured my ticket for a Joe Bonamassa show in England next year.

Time Clocks is rounded off by the almost laid-back classic rock Known Unknowns. Joe treats us some sweet guitar solo work in this one, as he sings “it’s hard to let it go.” And that’s the way you might feel by the time you reach this point in the album.

This feels like a distinctive move forward by Bonamassa. Yes, there are all the ingredients of his previous work – the blues basis, the guitar solos, his soulful vocals, the attention to detail in the production – but this is a bold step forward, a cinematic palette of modern rock guaranteed to both surprise and delight.