Royal Tea (another way of saying 'royalty'....as this album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios) is the thirteenth studio effort from US blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa, easily one of the hardest working musicians in the world over the last 20 years, with well over forty releases and collaborations to his credit and a non-stop touring schedule that has seen him play at just about every major venue around the globe. Royal Tea was meant to be a homage to all of Joe's British blues & rock heroes, and step one was recording the album in the hallowed halls of Abbey Road. The results are a collection of ten new original songs, a few co-written by folks such as ex-Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden, ex-Cream lyricist Pete Brown, as well as pianist Jools Holland. Long-time producer Kevin Shirley was again at the helm of assembling the album, and Joe's constant band members, Anton Fig (drums), Michael Rhodes (bass), and Reese Wynans (keys) are here, alongside various other musicians and backing vocalists.
"When One Door Opens" kicks things off as a haunting blues number, soaring keyboards and Joe's yearning lead guitar give way to a gentle arrangement with an almost whisper of a vocal from the guitarist, but at the mid-way point Fig's hard hitting drums and Joe's hard rock riffing come into play, turning the song into a wild Led Zeppelin inspired romp, complete with a scorching wah-wah drenched guitar solo. The title track "Royal Tea" is up next, a driving, tasty slice of catchy blues rock, Wynans' expert Hammond organ simmering behind Joe's lean guitar licks, strong lead vocals, and fantastic backing vocals from Jade MacRae & Juanita Tippins. It's practically the long lost sibling to Humble Pie's "Black Coffee". Bonamassa & Marsden teamed up to write "Why Does It Take So Long to Say Goodbye", easily one of Royal Tea's highlights, a tender blues number with a heart tugging chorus (it's also one of Joe's best vocals on the album) and restrained, yet highly emotional guitar solos. Listening to this one, you can certainly tell how much Marsden was involved in many of those early, bluesy Whitesnake classics. "Lookout Man!" is the heavy rock track on the album, similar to what Joe does with Black Country Communion, with tremendous bass from Rhodes, complementing Bonamassa's riffs and solos perfectly. "High Class Girl' hints at John Mayall's Bluesbreakers as well as Booker T & the MG's, while "A Conversation With Alice" shows Joe's love of Free, Bad Company, and possibly The Allman Brothers Band. Lethal wah-wah licks kick off the frantic "I Didn't Think She Would Do It", another barnstorming blues-rock romp fueled by plenty of guitar firepower and tasty Hammond organ, and acoustic guitar & piano permeate the tender "Beyond the Silence", another song to feature a stunning Bonamassa vocal. Barroom blues & jazz collide on the honky tonk boogie of "Lonely Boy", and Joe blends blues, country, and gospel on the charming closer "Savannah", a perfect choice for a single, especially here in the US where this type of music has a large following.
Though early on Joe Bonamassa was clearly out to prove his guitar skills to the world, with Royal Tea we see a slightly restrained guitar hero who now seems more content letting the songs do the talking, and the guitar complementing rather than being the focus. His vocals are more confident than even, and with a wealth of variety on Royal Tea, just about any type of music fan will find something to love here. Well done.
1 When One Door Opens 7:35
2 Royal Tea 4:29
3 Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye 6:45
4 Lookout Man! 5:31
5 High Class Girl 4:54
6 A Conversation With Alice 4:19
7 I Didn't Think She Would Do It 4:12
8 Beyond The Silence 6:46
9 Lonely Boy 4:06
10 Savannah 4:3