Joe's Royal Tea

Bruce Von Stiers

Many people know of the Abbey Road Studios because The Beatles recorded there. But other named musical artists have recorded at the studios. Those artists were Glenn Miller, The Hollies, Pink Floyd, The Alan Parsons Project, Deep Purple and Lady Gaga just to name a few. Along with those artists a number of blues albums were recorded at those famous studios. Now another musical artist has been added to the long legacy of artists having recorded at the Abbey Road Studios. That musical artist is Joe Bonamassa.

As a kid, Joe opened for B.B. King. He had his own band as a teen, Bloodline, which included children of noted rock musicians. Eric Clapton, Paul Rodgers, Sam Moore, Eric Johnson, Tina Guo, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Brian Setzer, Zakk Wylde, Beth Hart and Jethro Tull are just a small sampling of musical artists that Joe has collaborated with.

As popular as Joe is in the U.S., he is also very popular in the U.K. He's played sold out shows at the Royal Albert Hall, the BIC, the Manchester Arena, Usher Hall, First Direct Arena and Clapham Common among others. So with that kind of fan base, it made sense that Joe would pay homage to the British Blues scene by recording at the Abbey Road Studio.

This new recording is an album aptly titled Royal Tea. Originally slated to be recorded in July of 2019, circumstances delayed the recording until January of 2020. It had been a dream of Joe's to record at Abbey Roads since he was a kid. And the fact that he loves the British take on the blues made it even better. In the liner notes on the new album, Joe finds their take to be dangerous, full of joyous naiveté

According to the liner notes, Joe wrote most of the album with the legendary Bernie Marsden in two weeks. The title track was written with James House after Joe got to the U.K. to begin recording the album. Royal Tea was produced by Kevin Shirley, with the Roy Weisman as Executive Producer. Besides producing previous albums for Joe, Shirley has produced albums for Iron Maiden, John Haitt and Robert Cray among others. Weisman has acted as Joe's longtime manager and business partner. He is also partnered with Joe in J & R Recordings, the record label that this album is on along with previous albums Joe has recorded.

For the album Joe does the lead vocals and plays the guitar and mandolin. He is joined by Anton Fig on drums and percussion, although Greg Morrow helps out on one song with drums and percussion. Michael Rhodes is on bass. All of the organ and piano work was done by Reese Wynan, except for one song where Jools Holland plays the piano. Paulie Cerra plays sax for one song and Lee Thornburg does the trumpet and horn arrangements for the same song. And on that same song Ron Dziubla plays the baritone sax. Kevin Shirley plays acoustic guitar on a couple of songs and does percussion for one. Rob McNelley is on rhythm guitar for a couple of songs. Jeff Bova does percussion on one song along with providing orchestration his group, The Bovaland Orchestra on another. Errol Litton plays harmonica for one song. Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins provide the backing vocals on the album. Mahalia Barnes helps out on backing vocals for one song and Bernie Marsden does backing vocals on a different song. Each of these artists have numerous performance and recording credits behind them, including some of them have previously recorded with Joe.

The first song on the album is When One Door Opens. Some people who've heard the song think it would be perfect as the theme song for a James Bond film. I tend to agree, at least for the first part of the song. It has the majestic quality of a Bond theme in its music. The song deals with things moving forward but he never really gets ahead. Horse drawn funeral processions and graves are but a couple of images brought forth in the song. There is some very cool guitar about three-fourths of the way into the song.

The title track, Royal Tea, is second on the album. It has a really cool rocking blues vibe. It takes its theme from Joe's observation of Prince Harry's wedding and subsequent resignation of his royal duties. It's about someone who leaves guys wanting, her seemingly gaining a higher stature each time. But maybe one day she'll get hers.

Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye starts out with a bit of haunting blues guitar. A stormy relationship that he is trying to figure out how to end is the theme of the song. About halfway through the song, the music builds up and then rocks out with some great guitar. There are some nice backing vocals in the song as well.

Having an ego ten feet tall and espousing all he's about is the fun tone of Lookout Man! Not only are the vocals tough, the guitar is great and the harmonica in the song is killer.

High Class Girl is a really cool blues piece. He finds her cheating on him and dresses her down.

I first heard the song, A Conversation With Alice, a bit before the album was released. I thought it might end up being my favorite song on the album. And, indeed it is. It is a super cool mix of rock and blues guitar with great lead and backing vocals. Like the theme of a couple of songs on the album, he's trying figure things out and to get back on track.

Some killer rock styled blues guitar can be found in I Didn't Think She Would Do It. There are riffs in the song that anyone who knows Joe's music will recognize as his style. The song deals with a relationship that went south and that she ended it in a spectacular fashion.

Beyond The Silence is a slick but moody ballad. It might seem strange but the song made me think of Bon Jovi for some of the guitar work. And the fluid, yet sometimes aching vocals from Joe on the song, along with some nice keys, drum and bass make this a great song.

Lonely Boy is a fun, smile effecting, toe-tapping, fast paced blues tune with some terrific piano, trumpet, sax and other instruments.

The album closes with Savannah. This song has kind of an alt country styling to it. It was kind of a nice surprise to have a song like this on the album. Joe plays the mandolin on the song and there is subtle organ and piano music that give it a distinct flavor

I've been a fan of Joe Bonamassa for some time now. I think that each new album he records is better than the one before. I definitely think that Royal Tea may be some of the best work that Joe has done.

Royal Tea has now been released. You can grab a copy at your favorite music outlet or streaming service. Or you can order directly from Joe Bonamassa's web site. Joe's official site is https://jbonamassa.com/ The site also include some music videos for songs on Royal Tea.

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© 2020 Bruce E Von Stiers