Joe Bonamassa - Royal Tea
by Kevin Wierzbicki
Bonamassa's new album is called Royal Tea for a couple of reasons; he was inspired by how Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle quit the royal life, and he also fulfilled a long-held desire to record in London's famed Abbey Road studios. Only fitting then that the effort's opening cut "When One Door Opens" begins with a musical flourish that conjures the pomp of formal royal events. With orchestration and sweet backing vocals from Jade McRae and Juanita Tippin, the song is sedate and introspective, at least until about half-way through the seven-minute-plus cut when drummer Anton Fig kicks up the beat to loud and proud, Joe's cue to launch into a guitar romp with psychedelic overtones. The ladies coo "royal teeee" on the album's title track while Bonamassa sings about a man who parties like a big shot, using fleeting fame and wealth during 15-minutes of fame, only to discover all that time has been wasted. Bonamassa works with various co-writers here and on the slow and smoky "Why Does it Take so Long to Say Goodbye" his co-writer is Bernie Marsden of Whitesnake fame; no wonder the cut so heavily echoes the type of classic rock that Whitesnake and many others of the era favored. And while there is no denying that the bluesman has often rocked it up pretty good in the past, Royal Tea is more rock-oriented than is usual for him. Perfect examples include the bass-heavy riff-fest of "Lookout Man!" and "A Conversation with Alice," another co-write with Marsden. There's still plenty of Joe's more traditional work here, like the clearly Booker T-influenced "High Class Girl" where organist Reese Wynans shines, the funky barnburner "I Didn't Think She Would Do It" where Bonamassa nods to Hendrix and the mystery-shrouded Western theme that is "Beyond the Silence," the only song on this set that Joe wrote by himself. Joe plays both acoustic and electric guitar on the nearly seven-minute cut, which instead of saving it for the end, builds in intensity each of the numerous times that he achingly sings the song's title. As has become the standard for Bonamassa, Royal Tea has hit #1 on Billboard's blues charts, and it likely will be there for a while.