By Stephen Guppy
After eight acclaimed studio albums and an electrifying live set, Joanne Shaw Taylor has positioned herself at the forefront of the contemporary blues-rock revival. For her latest release, Nobody’s Fool, the two-time British Blues Awards Vocalist of the Year has reunited with producers Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith to explore a “retro pop” style with synth keys, heavy bass beats, and even a guest cellist. Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics also guests.
While Nobody’s Fool focuses as much on JST’s vocal and song-writing talents as on her fretboard wizardry, it’s still a guitar lovers’ album. There’s guest shots by Joe Bonamassa and Bones UK guitarist Carmen Vandenberg, but JST spices most of the tracks with her lethal Telecaster snarl. Nobody’s Fool should win JST a broader audience while delighting her existing fan base.
Producers Bonamassa and Smith contribute on guitar, and they’ve assembled a distinguished group of sidemen: drummer Lemar Carter has worked with everyone from Carrie Underwood to Mick Jagger; Calvin Turner who contributes the dynamic bass grooves, tours with Bonamassa’s band; and Deron Johnson, who has performed with Stanley Clarke, David Sanborn, and Miles Davis, adds his impressive keyboard skills to the mix.
The title track, “Nobody’s Fool” has a country-rock feel and revolves around a strong chorus, country-flavoured bottleneck guitar, and kick-ass drumming from Lemar Carter.
“Fade Away” is a JST original, written in memory of her mother and dwells on the way that time sweeps away our fleeting opportunities for communication with loved ones. It’s a song that could pass for modern country, and provides JST with an opportunity to showcase her considerable vocal chops. She delivers a throaty, smoky performance over acoustic guitar, piano, and Tina Guo’s cello. Cellist and pianist create a crystalline backdrop for JST’s fingerstyle arpeggios and heartfelt vocal.
“The Leaving Kind” is another wistful ballad with a chorus that haunts the listener’s mind. Unlike “Fade Away”, however, this song ends with a brief but searing solo that reminds us of JST’s powers as a lead guitarist.
JST gets back into her wheelhouse on “Then There’s You” and shows off her abilities as a blues/R&B vocalist. Drummer Carter and bassist Calvin Turner provide a rock-solid foundation for her performance and having Bonamassa and Smith playing rhythm doesn’t hurt.
Dave Stewart, of the Eurythmics, discovered JST when she was a teenage Joannie B. Goode and has been a mentor to her ever since. He’s back to help out on “Missionary Man”, providing a tidal rush of synth keys over the bass-heavy rhythm. It’s the only track on the album that isn’t a JST original, but it fits the overall feel of the set well.
“Just No Getting Over You (Dream Cruise)” and “Won’t Be Fooled Again” give us two sides of a painful break-up. “Just No Getting Over You”, as the title implies, embodies the ache of lost love, while “Won’t Be Fooled Again” offers an uplifting lyric and features a tasty solo as Bonamassa steps out of the producer’s booth and straps on his axe.
“Bad Blood” opens with an Ennio Morricone spaghetti-western riff that takes us into a memorable, hooky chorus. It’s a mid-tempo rocker enlivened by serious Duane Eddy twang and choral support from a girl-group trio, and it’s another song that should appeal to a general audience. JST’s fills and brief solo are inspired here, as is her smooth-but-urgent vocal.
“Figure It Out” is an up-tempo rocker with another strong chorus. The back-up trio echoes JST’s vocal effectively, and Lemar Carter drives the bus with creative fills and a rock and roll backbeat. This number introduces another Brit prodigy, Carmen Vandenberg, who collaborated with Jeff Beck on his Loudhailer album. Vandenberg salts her licks with distortion and dissonance, giving the song a punk/metal edge.
How should an album of songs that focuses on lost love and vanished opportunities end? With an upbeat affirmation of the possibility of new romance and better days ahead, of course. “New Love,” as the title suggests, wraps up JST’s latest offering on a high note, with driving rhythms and a horn-driven chorus behind Shaw Taylor’s six-string heroics.
Nobody’s Fool drops Oct. 28 on the aptly-named Keeping The Blues Alive Records. It’s an enjoyable counterpoint to Joanne Shaw Taylor’s straight-ahead blues-rock repertoire, and it gives us a sense of some of the ideas she may develop in the future. Don’t miss it.
Pre-order Nobody’s Fool Here
Watch “Just No Getting Over You (Dream Cruise)”