Joanne Shaw Taylor Goes Full Blues with “The Blues Album”

Last Updated on December 6, 2022 by Lil Ginge

Joanne Shaw Taylor (JST) is no doubt one of the best blues-rock musicians of the moment. But until now she has never released a 100% pure blues album. That changed with the September 17 release of her new album The Blues Album.

A guitarist playing blues guitar.

The album is co-produced by blues-rock superstar and JST’s best friend Joe Bonamassa along with guitarist Josh Smith, another longtime collaborator of Bonamassa’s. It clocks in at 43:38 and has been released on Bonamassa’s KTBA indie label.

Recorded at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville, the album features 11 tracks of blues deep cuts, b-sides, and personal favorites of Taylor’s. It’s most likely a major winner for any fan of the blues and Joanne Shaw Taylor’s gritty vocals and masterful guitar chops.

The Blues Album Track Listing

  1. Stop Messin’ Round” – Fleetwood Mac cover. (Clifford Adams/Peter Green). 3:37
  1. If That Ain’t a Reason” – Little Milton cover. (Don Davis / Marshall Jones / Carl Smith). 4:00
  1. Keep On Loving Me” – (Otis Rush). 4:07
  1. If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody” – Aretha Franklin cover. (Rudy Clark). 4:10
  1. Don’t Go Away Mad” –  Little Village cover. (Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, Jim Keltner, Nick Lowe). With Joe Bonamassa on vocals and guitar. 2:49
  1. Scraps Vignette” – (Josh Smith). 1:27
  1. Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me” – (Albert King). – 4:25
  2. Let Me Down Easy” – Little Milton cover. (Maurice Dollison) – 4:50
  1. Two Time My Lovin’” – The Fabulous Thunderbirds cover. (Kim Wilson) 4:34
  1. I Don’t Know What You’ve Got” – Little Richard cover. (Don Covay/Horace Hall). With Mike Farris on vocals. 4:49
  1. Three Time Loser” – (Don Covay/Ronald Miller). 4:50

Featured Musicians on The Blues Album

  • Joanne Shaw Taylor – vocals, guitar
  • Joe Bonamassa – guitar
  • Josh Smith – guitar
  • Reese Wynans – keyboards
  • Greg Morrow drums
  • Steve Mackey – bass
  • Steve Patrick – trumpet
  • Mark Douthit – saxophone
  • Barry Green – trombone

Joanne Shaw Taylor Needed a Break. Then Covid Hit.

Joanne Shaw Taylor had toured relentlessly for many years. If you’ve gotten to see her play on the road, you’re lucky. But lately, JST had been feeling burned out, and her label, Sony, started to notice.

Sony requested that Taylor take six months off in 2021 to recapture her musical mojo. But that plan got moved up when Covid-19 hit the world going into the Spring of 2020. That led to Taylor taking three months off from music. No guitar. No writing. Just hanging at home like the rest of us normies.

The reset worked wonders for JST’s musical mindset and she soon rediscovered her passion for blues guitar. It also seemed like it might finally be the right time to work on a passion project of hers – putting out a purist blues cover album rather than the grittier blues-rock she’s famous for.

With her voice, body, and mind well-rested, healthy, and ready to play music again, Joanne Shaw Taylor embarked on this new blues-focused phase of her career. And she decided to bring one of her best friends along for the ride: blues-rock superstar guitarist, singer, and songwriter Joe Bonamassa.

JST mentioned the project to Bonamassa who started informally suggesting song choices that would really allow her to stretch the boundaries of her vocal work. Before long, Bonamassa went from volunteer mentor to official co-producer of Joanne Shaw Taylor’s 6th full-length studio album.

Bonamassa and Smith’s Approach to The Blues Album

Bonamassa is legendary for his connoisseurship of guitars. But he’s also a connoisseur of rare and obscure blues music. So it’s no surprise that he helped Joanne Shaw Taylor locate off-the-beaten track cuts for her to cover on The Blues Album. These range from songs by legendary artists like Aretha Franklin, Little Milton, Little Richard, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and a whole lot more.

Bonamassa’s plan was to focus more on JST’s heartfelt singing than usual. Her brilliant vocals are often overshadowed by her now-legendary guitar playing. But Joanne Shaw Taylor is a musician-singer-songwriter triple threat and Joe wanted her to lean into the vocal side of things this time.

Taylor loved working with both Bonamassa and Josh Smith, who both brought something different to the recording session. Though JST was initially worried about working with such a close friend in Joe B, it seems to have gone along swimmingly. 

It was also fun for Taylor to work with two musicians who are much closer to her in age than her previous producers. Plus, they bring the touring musicians’ mindset to the recording sessions and not just the producer’s mindset. JST has described the recording session as very relaxed and a fun hang.

As co-producers, Bonamassa mostly handled the technical side in the control room while Josh Smith acted more as an in-studio band leader. Both Bonamassa and Smith played rhythm guitar on the album, allowing JST the space she needed to focus on her singing and lead guitar solos. In fact, she enjoyed the arrangement so much Taylor has flirted with the idea of not playing rhythm guitar on future albums, either. (Or was she joking? We’ll find out someday).

Joanne Shaw Taylor and Blues Guitar

Joanne Shaw Taylor doesn’t necessarily think of “blues songs” in terms of the traditional catalog. For her, there is a broader sense of the blues, a particular style that involves singing or playing with a certain blues attitude and feel. It definitely doesn’t need to be the blues in terms of a traditional 12-bar type structure. That helped the trio of JST, Bonamassa, and Smith pick the tracks for this album.

When it came to the guitar itself, Taylor stuck mostly with her 1966 Fender Esquire Junior. Although she attempted to try a few of Bonamassa’s Telecasters, she found that the Junior was the right fit for her smaller hands. Bonamassa did bring along some vintage amps to use, including a 1960s Fender Vibroverb mixed with a Dumble Overdrive. No pedals were used on the guitar, she just plugged straight into the amps.

The Blues Album is Joanne Shaw Taylor’s follow-up to the 2019 release Reckless Heart. Its production team of Bonamassa and Smith has been busy of late, producing new albums for Joanna Connor, Jimmy Hall, and Eric Gales. 

JST is not confident in her own ability to write pure blues songs, despite how great she is at writing blues-rock. That’s why she knew when she approached a purist blues album it would be an album full of covers by some of her favorites. To her, the thread comes down to the heartfelt lyrics and the passionate approach to singing them.

I’m so glad to hear that Joanne Shaw Taylor has rediscovered her passion for the blues and for guitar. She’s one of the brightest lights on the blues-rock scene today and I know she will have a lot more great music up her sleeve in the coming years.

If you enjoyed this article on Joanne Shaw Taylor’s The Blues Album, check out my review of Lori McKenna’s amazing Christmas EP Christmas Is Right Here.

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