“Time Clocks” has been out for a couple of weeks now.
It’s already given Joe Bonamassa the 25th Number One album of his career, and been lauded everywhere. I have had the review copy since October 7th and am only reviewing it now, for precisely that reason. Because it doesn’t matter what I say about Joe Bonamassa, he’s the biggest thing in ….well what exactly, he’s not really blues anymore, but we’ll come to that. Then there’s the fact I never hide my fandom for Joe. I am not going to lie to you, I’ve purchased two tickets for one of the shows at the Royal Albert Hall next year that were so expensive that I may well have to sell a kidney at some point – but will be worth every penny.
Then there’s the main reason for the delay. Usually when you review as many records as I do, you make snap judgements on things, it’s the nature of the beast. I took one listen to this and decided it was the album of the year and the best of JB’s career. Decided that the fella had released 45 in 44 years (It really upsets me that he’s younger than me – like the time my brother took up against Kings Of Leon because they were younger than him and could grow beards) and I must be wrong. It couldn’t be that good. It must have a flaw. So I listened, again and again. And I am here to tell you, that as my dad always says, “procrastination is the thief of time”, because it isn’t “that good” at all. “Time Clocks” is downright sensational.
And its sensational for entirely this reason: Joe Bonamassa has made the blues prog rock. This is epic on a different level to anything he’s ever done.
The “prologue” if you like, is “Pilgrimage”. Just under a minute to make sure we are all sitting comfortably, strapped into our seats and ready for take-off.
Once we are, “Notches” washes in like a tsunami of sound, thundering and absolutely proud that it is massive. The outright rejection of the “less is more” ideal. There’s a line in its first verse that goes: “That road that leads me home/ Brings me back to the blues” and yes, of course there’s elements of that in the sound, but its not beholden to one thing, to one formula. Instead, it grooves. It meanders and occasionally, it goes for the throat. “If you poke the bear, you’re bound to lose” sings Joe here, in one of his angrier lines.
“The Heart That Never Waits” takes the idea and ramps it up. There’s a blues boogie to this, but the song with the title that might be the next Bond Movie, auditions for the job too. Goodness me, the dark themes of the chorus – complete with sensational backing vocals from Junita Tippens and Mahalia Barnes – are something like we’ve never heard before.
Lets be clear though, it’s the title track that stands head and shoulders above all else here. A country flavour, a slow building thing, the soundtrack to a film that plays in JB’s head perhaps, its all those things and more. In truth, I’ve no idea what it’s about, but in a way that only adds to the mysticism of this. It might be the best song he’s ever had. Only might you understand.
The unsettling almost Latin start to “Questions And Answers” gives way to another set of raw lyrics -if these are from life, some woman has done a job on our boy and he’s found solace in his music that’s for sure.
“Minds Eye” is gentler, in fact its beautifully wistful and evocative. The words though “help, I am going down, I need someone to slow the spiral down” set it up as another one with a cathartic feel. And that’s before the chorus soars as if he’s leading a congregation.
“Curtain Call” as an Eastern feel, like its from the African desert, but its music on a grand scale? Widescreen wouldn’t even come close, which is why I say its not a “blues” record as such, its just a mighty slice of whatever you want it to be. To that end, “The Loyal Kind” adds a touch of folk to things. Kind of like Mark Knopfler’s recent work, and the half spoken words too, make it feel more confessional from the characters point of view. But my, the hard rock riffing in the chorus! Even on a record as diverse as this, you don’t see it coming. That’s the beauty of “….Clocks”.
“Hanging On A Loser” lets its hair down for a boogie, and Lachy Doley’s keyboards are incredible here), before “Known Unknowns” goes back to some more familiar territory, as it were. The blues lead alone tells you that. But there’s – even here – something a little timeless and 70s about this, more Laurel Canyon than Robert Johnson.
Trying to sum this up is the – appropriately enough given mention of Johnson – Devil’s own job. Essentially its like this. I was watching a film the other week, which centred on a young singer who wanted to “make it”. Bob Harris does a cameo in the thing and tells her she’s got to find her “own voice”. I’d argue that, as brilliant as his other stuff was and is, its on his last few solo records that Joe Bonamassa has really done that (take “Conversations With Alice” on his last album, for example) and that has reached its peak with “Time Clocks.” More accurately perhaps I should say, “peak so far” because given the evolution of Joe Bonamassa, who the hell knows what’s next?