Perception always serves up a slice of skepticism for a record that contains more renditions of other artist’s songs than actual original tracks. Creativity? Originality? Individuality? All are characteristics that come into question when taking this approach to an album’s creation. Yet, it’s a method that American blues rock guitarist and singer Joe Bonamassa has utilized significantly throughout a 12-year long career to great success – with critics even calling the 35-year-old musician the “pre-eminent blues-rock guitarist of his generation.” Was Bonamassa able to continue this acclaim with the release of his eleventh studio album Driving Towards the Daylight, which consists of only three authentic arrangements and eight reproductions? The answer is yes.
In the last 14 months, Bonamassa has worked nonstop. He’s released his ninth studio album Dust Bowl, as well as a second album, 2, with his English-American super group Black Country Communion. He has also been on tour most of the year and is currently working on an upcoming third album with the aforementioned BCC. (When does this guy find the time to sleep?) With Bonamassa’s ridiculously busy schedule, it is not surprising that many of the songs on his latest record are vintage remakes. What is surprising is the quality of work he generates despite this fact. With the help of producer Kevin “Caveman” Shirley (Black Crowes, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin), Bonamassa successfully creates a soundtrack for the romantically ruined. From beginning to end, each song’s lyrics provide another crack to a broken heart as only the blues can. Yet rock and roll instrumentals jolt that heart back to life just enough to suffer the sweet symphonic agony of the next track.
Driving Towards the Daylight starts off with Bonamassa’s creation “Dislocated Boy.” It is a dirty, smoky barroom anthem – and that’s a good thing. Throughout the track, Bonamassa’s ice cube cool vocals and smooth as bourbon guitar licks provide the poison to drown one’s blues away without interruption for a full six-and-a-half minutes. Continuing with Bonamassa’s originally scribed songs are “Heavenly Soul” and the ballad title track “Driving Towards the Daylight.” The latter, co-written by Danny Kortchmar, is arguably the standout song of the album. Bonamassa’s tunefully tormented vocals flow like tears within depressed piano notes and flustered guitar riffs – musically personifying the agony of love lost.
While the original songs on Driving Towards the Daylight are few, Bonamassa’s covers of blues classics musically – and literally – complete this album. Through his powerful rock-infused guitar work and with the help of guest musicians such as drummer Anton Fig and Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford, each secondhand song sounds brand new. In “A Place in My Heart” (originally recorded by English rock guitarist Bernard John "Bernie" Marsden), Bonamassa plucks at each sad string on his electric guitar until the instrument wails. Another prominent covered classic is Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking?,” which starts off with the deceased American blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player verbalizing that he wants the instrumentals to sound like “jungle stuff” with “bongo beats.” And Bonamassa listens, delivering heavy-as-lead guitar riffs with a backup percussion that struts straight to an amazing dirty guitar solo finale provided by Joe himself. Even the rendition of American singer-songwriter and musician Bill Wither’s “Lonely Town Lonely Street” is Bonamassa-fied (a new term created strictly for this album) as the seven-minute song features several solos amongst hollow drumbeats and vocals that sound eerily similar to Wither’s own voice.
Bonamassa knows the formula for blues rock – low on lyrics, bulky in emotive instrumentals. In Driving Towards the Daylight, Bonamassa lets his guitar do most of the talking, a prime example of modern blues at its finest.