Joe Bonamassa “Dust Bowl”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#431 in the Series) is Joe Bonamassa, Dust Bowl

Joe Bonamassa seems to be having a lot of fun these days. He gets to explore his metal head banger side with his dynamic side project Black Country Communion with pals Glen Hughes and Jason Bonham, and is fresh off his excellent 2010 release Black Rock that features a gutsy version of “Spanish Boots”, a surreal reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On a Wire”, and a jubilant rendition of ”Night Life” with his idol B.B. King, and now, in 2011 he gives us Dust Bowl.

Upon first blush, this prodigious output rivaled perhaps only by the pre Mandy Moore moved to France Ryan Adams, this might seem like an artist trying to find his artistic muse, with his genre hopping a way of distancing himself from his hard core blues contemporaries like Kenny Wayne Sheppard and Jonny Lang. The reality, in my opinion, is that he is doing what any brilliant artist does by keeping up with current trends, blending old school, vintage, and new school sounds into a product that embraces the works of his peers, pays tribute to the foundation set by his idols, and ultimately makes him happy. This, by the way, is probably what Stevie Ray would have done if he had lived and what Eric Clapton would be doing if he wasn’t possessed by the soul of Robert Johnson and had never met J.J. Cale.

This album is seriously good. Thankfully The 1930’s Oklahoma dust bowl imagery is not over played here, yet serves as a metaphor for some of the stories that are being told throughout the album. The collaborations are great, who knew Vince Gill could sing the blues, and “Heartbreaker” featuring Glen Hughes sounds like the baddest of Bad Company. John Hiatt guests on his own song with Vince Gill on the excellent, upbeat “Tennessee Plates”. The most impressive thing on this album Joe’s ability to switch from Delta Blues, to Jump Blues, to Hammond Organ Vintage Rock & Roll at the drop of a hat.

Dustbowl is an energetic, eclectic mix of ‘70’s British blues-Rock with a touch of Nashville thrown in in a style that is pure Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble.

The first thing you notice about the opening track “Slow Train” is that the guy can sing. We are not going crazy here and saying he sings better or even as well as Paul Rodgers, but his vocal turn here could have been a keeper on any of the best Bad Company albums. The chugging train start up sound he makes with his guitar at the very beginning makes me want to find a video to see how that works.

“Dust Bowl” is another Bonamassa original and has that eerie sloshy atmospheric style sound where you can almost picture vampires and zombies walking around in a daze. The vocals are passionate and resonate nicely with the slightly muted guitar work.

The curve ball comes with a romping version of “Tennessee Plates” with John Hiatt along with Vince Gill throwing in a little background vocals, a couple of good old guitar players having a lot of fun doing what they do best.

Not forgetting his pure blues contingent the fourth song of the set “The Meaning of the Blues” takes us into Jonny Lang territory with some excellent solo guitar.

The set turns a little into a little bit of “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” with an acoustic turn on “Black Lung Heartache” that morphs into a nice marriage of strong vocals and guitar scales. This guy is a talented dude.

My favorite song on the album, partly because I like the title is “The Last Matador of Bayonne”. This song has a definite “Bridge of Sighs” feel to it and the mournful, wailing muted trumpet in the background serves to make this an atmospheric masterpiece.

Joe enlists his Black Country Communion pal Glen Hughes for a turn on the Free hit “Heartbreaker”. Glen can sing the phone book and it would sound great, Joe does a little bit of brilliant cross marketing to the metal heads here while the classic rock aficionados will go “hey it’s the guy from Deep Purple”.

Vince Gill jumps back into the fray with a piano-guitar rocking tune “Sweet Rowena” that is very much in the B.B. King style. This song is very good so look for more collaboration with Vince in the future.

Just to show that he has guts, Bonamassa ends the set with “Prisoner” the song that Barbra Streisand made famous. If my man American Idol judge Randy Jackson were scoring at home he would say “Dawg, you owned that one, your made it your own”, which he did, it just wouldn’t have been a bad thing if the song ended after track 11. I hope this wasn’t a “toe in the water” experiment and he is setting us up for “You Don’t Send Me Flowers” next year.

In a recent poll of the best albums of 2011 this album ranked number 10. After a couple of re-listens I think it should rank higher. Here’s hoping that Mr. Bonamassa puts out 3 more albums between now and July 2012 with the same artistic fervor he has shown over the previous 12. And just a suggestion Joe, more cow bell, less Barbra, and more John Hiatt.

— Walt Falconer

Track listing

  1. Slow Train (Bonamassa, Shirley) – 6:49
  2. Dust Bowl (Bonamassa) – 4:33
  3. Tennessee Plates ft. John Hiatt (Hiatt, Porter) – 4:18
  4. The Meaning of the Blues (Troup, Worth) – 5:44
  5. Black Lung Heartache (Bonamassa) – 4:14
  6. You Better Watch Yourself (Bonamassa, Jacobs) – 3:30
  7. The Last Matador of Bayonne (Bonamassa) – 5:23
  8. Heartbreaker ft. Glenn Hughes (Rodgers) – 5:49
  9. No Love on the Street (Curry, Kamen) – 6:32
  10. The Whale That Swallowed Jonah (Bonamassa) – 4:46
  11. Sweet Rowena ft. Vince Gill (Gill, Wasner) – 4:34
  12. Prisoner (Desautels, Lawrence) – 6:48


  • Joe Bonamassa – Guitars and vocals (all tracks); Tzouras, Baglama and Slide bouzouki (tracks 2, 5); Mandolin (track 10)
  • Carmine Rojas – Bass (tracks 1-2, 4-9, 12)
  • Anton Fig – Drums (tracks 1-2, 4-9, 12); Percussion (tracks 2, 5); Hammer guitar (track 5); Shaker (track 9)
  • Rick Melick – Organ (tracks 1-2, 4-8, 12); Piano, tambourine (tracks 2, 5-7, 12); Synthesizers (track 4), Accordion (track 5)
  • Peter Van Weelden – Spoken word (track 2)
  • John Hiatt – Vocals (track 3)
  • Vince Gill – Guitar (tracks 3, 11); Vocals (track 11)
  • Michael Rhodes – Bass (tracks 3, 10-11)
  • Chad Cromwell – Drums (tracks 3, 10-11)
  • Steve Nathan – Hammond organ (track 3); Piano (tracks 3, 11)
  • Tony Cedras – Trumpet (track 7)
  • Glenn Hughes – Vocals (track 8 )
  • Arlan Schierbaum – Hammond organ (track 9)
  • Blondie Chaplin – Guitar (track 9)
  • Beth Hart – Vocals (track 9)
  • Reese Wynans – Hammond organ, piano (track 10)
  • Kevin Shirley – Producer


Posted by Larry Carta

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