Joe Bonamassa

Ever since Diane Sawyer profiled the cherubic Utica, New York native with piston dexterity over a decade ago, Joe Bonamassa, now 25, has been working on his blues prerequisites: thick riffs, thicker skin. So, It's Like That, Bonamassa's second LP, finds him wading in the genre's chasm between sunshine and moonshine, his optimism ringing most credible. The sonic bloom of "My Mistake" houses Bonamassa's first of many wide-eyed self-proclamations, delivered like an angry father on rusty cigarettes: "I'm not where I should/But I'm gonna make it there." Grounded in fluent finger-picking, mandolin, and bursting drum bubbles, "Waiting For Me" builds on that buoyancy, substituting 4:00 a.m.'s spilled whiskey for 8:00 a.m. peeking through the blinds: "I can't help but feelin' my best is yet to be/Somewhere there's something better waiting for me." Most of So, It's Like That is choreographed -- baritone guitar and thin fret squelch meld into one beating heart on "Unbroken" -- but the meticulous riffing of "Pain and Sorrow" unhinges nicely into an effects-drenched squall, the rhythm section left to catch the falling plates. So, It's Like That is closer to daybreak than midnight in its shade of blue, and rare is the bluesman whose heart isn't as callous as his fingertips.

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Shawn Bean