Joanne Shaw Taylor has come a long way since being ‘discovered’ by Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart – and not just geographically, relocating from her home in the Black Country, England, to Detroit, USA.
Now widely regarded as the UK’s premier blues rock guitarist, she is set to release album number eight on September 24th. ‘The Blues Album’ was recorded at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville by blues legends Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, both of who guest on the eleven track album of blues covers.
Joanne and Joe had been friends for many years, initially meeting when Joanne opened a show for a young Joe Bonamassa some while back. Since then they have kicked ideas about and learned from each other.
So when the pandemic struck and normal life was no more, Joanne, like the rest of the world, finally found herself with some time on her hands.
“I’d known from the beginning of my recording career that one day I wanted to record an album of blues covers, I just wasn’t sure when the right time to do that would be,” says Joanne. “I’ve always found it far easier to write my own material than come up with creative ways to make other artists’ material my own.”
That time was now!
“I mentioned my new project idea to Joe Bonamassa,” recalls Joanne. “He asked me for my song choices. Immediately he began sending me notes and was texting me song suggestions.
“He was already acting as a mentor as well as an unofficial producer on The Blues Album, so I asked him if he’d fancy the job, officially,” says Joanne. “Thankfully, he accepted. The Blues Album has been everything I hoped it would be. It’s been a labour of love, overseen by an artist, producer, and friend who I trust beyond measure.“
The covers on ‘The Blues Album,‘ are not your regular fair. Joe, having seen Joanne perform so many time previous, made it clear from the outset that he wanted her to push her voice. He felt, not unnaturally, that her virtuoso guitar playing overshadowed her voice, and there was more to give, vocally.
The songs the pair settled upon, I think offer that opportunity. They may not be the obvious blues standards, but there are some by likes of Albert King, Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green and Magic Sam. Others that Joanne pays tribute to include Little Village, Little Milton, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and James Ray.
Some of the tracks were initially B-sides of singles, and so with Joanne’s personal and unique interpretation, the whole album sounds so fresh and new.
Album opener ‘Stop Messin’ Around,’was written by Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and released in 1968, This version has a more ’rounded’ feel to it I think. The guitar doesn’t sound quite so harsh, the jazzy, boogie piano break from Reece Wynans adds a real party feel, while Joanne’s voice has a wee added snarl to it.
‘If That Ain’t A Reason,’ has Joanne sounding pretty sassy in a more full sounding and slightly more uptempo version of the Little Milton number, the horns and guitar melding into a loud and punchy number.
‘Keep On Lovin’ Me’ is the Blues mixed with a bit swing. A bouncy bassline drives this along, with powerful vocals and guitar solos from Joanne, who feel she has managed to encapsulate the feel of booth the Magic Sam and The Paladins‘ versions.
‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’ was originally recorded by James Ray in 1961, though Joanne says she was more familiar (as was I) with the Aretha Franklin version. I can also hear a little bit of Bonnie Raitt in the vocals here,
The next track is on the album courtesy of a suggestion by co-producer Josh Smith. It’s Little Village‘s ‘Don’t Go Away Mad.’ and features Joe Bonamassa guesting on guitar and vocals, It”s certainly different to the other tracks on the album, and actually reminds me very much of Van Morrison’s ‘Bright Side of the Road.‘
I have no idea about the following short instrumental, ‘Scraps Vignette.’ Neither, it appears, does Joanne:
“We were working on another cover, and when we got to the studio, it just wasn’t working. We ended up having the band change the vibe completely. When I returned home to Detroit, I got in Rustbelt Studios with Al Sutton to put down the vocal, but it still wasn’t working. I believe Josh kept the take without the vocal and edited what we have now which is “Scraps”.
‘Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me,’ was originally a Stax release from Albert King. This is a tremendous cover – full sounding and brooding, it’s one to listen to. I mean really listen – there’s so much loaded into this one track between the horns, prominent bass, Joanne’s searing guitar work …. I hear something different every time I play this.
‘Let Me Down Easy‘can be heard at the top of this post. Another Little Milton song, Joanne’s voice take on a more gritty, slightly rasping tone … like a pared back Janis Joplin even.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds song, ‘Two Time My Loving‘ was suggested by producers Joe and Josh and is a real toe-tapper. I think it’s one of those songs you don’t realise you know until you actually hear it!
‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got,‘ is a real smoky blues number, with such a soulful Hammond organ, and warm sounding horn section the underpinning features, with Joanne’s guitar moodily working over the top. Says Joanne:
“I’m a huge Little Richard fan this has long been one of my favourite songs. In fact, this was the first song I selected to put on this album. Little Richard didn’t perform or record too many ballads, so I think it’s a particularly stand-out track for him in my eyes. Having Reese Wynans playing keys on it was brilliant, given that Reese had worked with Little Richard.”
The album closes with a more upbeat number, again chosen by Joe and Josh – ‘Three Time Loser.’ I can’t say exactly why, but for some reason this track reminds me of one of my favourite artists, Frankie Miller. I’ve checked, and it’s not n any of his albums as far as I know …. but anyhow, that’s a pretty big compliment, right there!
Here’s a wee taste of what to expect on this album:
MUSICIANS INVOLVED WITH THE RECORDING.
Joanne Shaw Taylor – Guitar / Vocals
Josh Smith – Guitar
Reece Wynans – Keyboards
Greg Morrow – Drums
Steve MacKey – Bass
Steve Patrick – Trumpet
Mark Douthit – Saxophone
Barry Green – Trombone
Joe Bonamassa – Guitar / Vocals on ‘Don’t Go Away Mad’
Mike Farris – special guest on ‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got.’
Joanne Shaw Taylor’s “The Blues Album” is released by KTBA Records on September 24th via www.ktbarecords.com