Joe Bonamassa is back on our shores this September, three years on from his last Australian tour. It’s been a busy period for the American blues-rock guitarist. His 13th solo LP, Redemption, came out in September 2018. In the years separating Redemption and his last solo effort, 2016’s Blues of Desperation, he released records with Black Country Communion, Rock Candy Funk Party and a third album of covers with Beth Hart.
Redemption was made alongside producer Kevin Shirley, who’s been Bonamassa’s studio offsider since 2006’s You & Me. The pair adhere to a highly collaborative method that grants Shirley a great deal of independence.
“I record my bits in the studio and then Kevin takes it and Lee [Thornburg] and Paulie [Cerra] will put horns on it subsequently. I’m never there for that. I’m not a studio rat where I just want to be there for everything. I leave the studio satisfied with where we’re at and then all the seasoning goes on later,” Bonamassa says.
Redemption includes backing vocals from Australian singers Mahalia Barnes and Jade MacRae, who Shirley recorded while in Sydney working with Cold Chisel. Bonamassa’s gained a lot of trust in Shirley’s curatorial decisions over the last decade or so.
“We enjoy the work and we enjoy the challenge of it and trying to do something different and come up with something different. It’s one of those things where it’s never the same twice,” he says. “We never make the same record twice. Some of them fight you and some of them are easy to make and joyous. You just don’t know until you get in there.”
The past two years saw releases from a variety of Bonamassa side projects, namely the hard rock band Black Country Communion, jazz funk outfit Rock Candy Funk Party and a third album of covers in collaboration with Beth Hart. He still gives precedence to solo album production, however.
“When I’m making a solo album I usually clear the deck pretty much for a year,” he says. “So I’m not working on anything else other than that for about a year.”
Covers dominated Bonamassa’s first ten studio albums, but 2014’s Different Shades of Blue signalled a shift in focus. Redemption is his third consecutive record to consist almost entirely of original material. Bonamassa has previously said that the decision to include so many cover versions wasn’t due to a lack of songwriting confidence.
“A lot of those early records that I made were done because I’m such a fan of the British blues albums that I grew up listening to,” he says. “And what they were doing was reworking old blues and making new arrangements. You kind of have to get that out of your system. You see it even with the trajectory of a lot of your favourite artists – they come up with the template by re-arranging old songs and then they concentrate more on songs that they want to write. Which is kind of what I’m doing now.”
The songs on Redemption were co-written with Shirley and a selection of Nashville songwriters such as Tom Hambridge, James House and Gary Nicholson. Three albums into the focus on originals, Bonamassa is finding his groove.
“The more you do it, the better you are at it,” he says. “That’s just the bottom line and that’s okay. And the more you want to pinpoint the lyrics. It’s that kind of thing – you want to say something, you want the records to mean something.”
Bonamassa started releasing albums in 2000 and they initially arrived with striking regularity – roughly one every 15 months up until 2012’s Driving Towards the Daylight. His priorities have definitely shifted in recent years.
“My thing, consciously, is I want to make less records, but spend more time on making sure every verse means something. I’ve gone through a very prolific phase and I’d like to scale it back and make it so we’re not making an album every year. I don’t want to do that.
“By the time we do the one at Abbey Road in January it’ll be almost three years since we recorded [Redemption]. It’s better than doing them every year, because at the end of the day it’s like a whirlwind. You don’t want it to be a whirlwind – you want it to be a very clear, concise effort that people enjoy.”
Joe Bonamassa tours Australia in support of his new record Redemption this September. Head online to grab your tickets today.