What does it sound like?:
Every year, in the last week of February, Joe spends four or five hours turning off all his amps before he goes up into the loft at Nerdville, and chooses a jigsaw. For the next 3 days, he sifts edge pieces then slowly fills in the rest of the picture. He limits himself to as few glimpses of the picture on the top of the box as possible and works in absolute silence. Exactly a week later they go back in the loft.
Then, fully rested, the amps come back on and it’s back to work.
For the other 51 weeks of the year Joe writes, records and performs, ensuring that his annual delivery of a studio album, a tour, a live album and then another tour continues uninterrupted. Jigsaws don’t pay for themselves, and Joe is the hardest working man in rock n roll.
In case anyone was worried that Joe was slacking off the pace this year, fear not. He has released an updated version of “A New Day Yesterday” called “A New Day Now””, and that was on top of an instrumental album under the name The Sleep Eazys, titled “Easy To Buy, Hard To Sell”. And whilst he couldn’t tour, a few weeks back he livestreamed a gig to over 17,000 pay per view customers which previewed this release.
Arriving in the UK at the start of 2020 with nothing more than time booked at Studio One in Abbey Road, “Royal Tea” continues his musical Anglophilia that featured on 2018’s “British Blues Explosion Live”. This time its new material written mostly with Bernie Marsden although Jools Holland, Pete Brown (yes, the bearded rainbow one), Dave Stewart and producer Jerry Shirley are also amongst the credits.
Starting with a regal fanfare (royal-tea, geddit?), “When One Door Opens” starts as a twang laden anthem that just shouts “Bond theme” before Joe’s sotto voce words take centre stage. And just as you’re thinking this is all well and good if a touch twee, the song veers off, “Beck’s Bolero” style with Bonamassa and drummer Anton Fig in lockstep and Joe getting his fully wah-wah on. It’s quite the tour-de-force and sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the album.
Title track “Royal Tea” may be on ode to Harry and Megan. Or not. It has a swinging raw riff that I just wish wasn’t stepped on so much by the backing singers.The ballad klaxon sounds at the start of “Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye”- rimshots with splash of echo as Joe pours his heart out but the songs builds to a crescendo with Joe cutting loose again. “Lookout Man” is full tilt grit, Joe’s guitar topped by Errol Linton’s wailing harmonica. “High Class Girl” is a Reese Wyans / Hammond infused tune that might interest Booker T’s lawyers, whilst on “A Conversation With Alice” Joe breaks out a Strat and some sublime slide work.
“I Didn’t Think She Would Do It” is fast paced, punchy, with a touch of pop and quite possibly the best track on the album. It’s only with “Beyond The Silence” that the pace slackens, before “Lonely Boy” returns with some brass led jive, leaving the country infused and slightly generic “Savannah” (laying burden’s down etc) takes us to the run out grooves.
In the 20 years since “A New Day” was first released, Joe has morphed from a blues rocking riff machine into something more rounded. There’s still a bluesy feel to parts of this album, and the guitar pyrotechnics still feature, but it’s more measured, more mature even, and I’d say his best studio effort yet.
What does it all *mean*?
That less isn’t always more.
Goes well with…
A cup of PG Tips and the next series of “The Crown”
Might suit people who like…
White boy blues whether its Rory, The Allmans, Free or even Johnny Winter. Go on, try it….