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BETH HART & JOE BONAMASSA – BLACK COFFEE REVIEW

Genre: SOUL/BLUES

Released by: Provogue Records

Release date: 26th JANUARY 2018

Line up:

Beth Hart – Vocals

Joe Bonamassa – Guitar

Juanita Tippins – Backing Vocals

Jade Macrae – Backing Vocals

Mahalia Barnes – Backing Vocals

Paulie Cerra – Saxophone

Rob McNelley – Rhythm Guitar

Michael Rhodes – Bass

Reese Wynans – Keyboards

Lee Thornburg (Horn Arrangements/Trumpet/Trombone)

Ron Dziubla – Saxophone

Anton Fig  – Drums

Tracklist:

  1. Give it Everything You Got
  2. Damn Your Eyes
  3. Black Coffee
  4. Lullabye of the Leaves
  5. Why Don’t You Do Right
  6. Saved
  7. Sittin’ on Top of the World
  8. Joy
  9. Soul on Fire
  10. Addicted

Four years since the release of highly acclaimed album Seesaw, the dedicated and well established fan bases of Bert Hart and Joe Bonamassa are sure to be eagerly awaiting their 3rd collaboration Black Coffee due out on 26th January 2018.

The album kicks off with Edgar Winters Give it Everything you Got.  I loved the distant guitar sound at the very beginning of this track but when the horn section came in I was sorely tempted to pull the plug on it.  I was unfamiliar with this track -which in my opinion sounds more 80’s than 70’s and I rather wish I had stayed that way.

Damn Your Eyes is an altogether different story.  Raw, passionate vocals combine with stunning piano and guitar to creative an emotive masterpiece and one of the album highlights.

It took a few listens to fully appreciate this version of Ella Fitzgerald track Lullaby of the Leaves. The style of singing at the beginning of the song is somewhat removed from my personal taste and reminds me slightly of Nina Simone but when the guitar breaks in it is transformed into something on a completely different level which is nothing short of spectacular.

Why Don’t You Do Right transports the listener to a bygone age and sounds like a typical cabaret song peppered, of course with some pretty impressive blues guitar just to shake things up a bit.

Sadly, with the exception of Sittin’ on Top of the World  – a song which I have heard many renditions of, the second half of this album failed to make much of an impression on me – likewise the title track Black Coffee.  I am a great fan of the blues but take soul occasionally and in small doses, jazz/gospel in miniscule quantities.  The concept behind this album appears to have been to dig up some lesser known soul songs and rework them.  Unfortunately, I feel these songs are lesser known for a reason and perhaps should have remained buried.

The talent of all the musicians involved in the production of Black Coffee is impossible to ignore.  Beth Hart’s voice is undoubtedly suited to all the musical styles covered on this release and is expertly adaptive and Joe Bonamassa without question has the expertise and adaptability to acclimatise to any genre – he plays phenomenally well throughout – as always, but essentially it is just an alternative slant on some well worn (if lesser known) oldies.

Although vocally and musically Hart and Bonamassa may have pulled off what they set out to achieve by demonstrating versatility, I feel this album is seriously let down by the choice of material, or maybe it’s just not for me…

SCORE: 7/10

REVIEWED BY KAREN HETHERINGTON

SECOND OPINION

Curious as to why Karen struggled with this one I thought I’d dust off the ear cans and give this album a listen. Often when a review shows a release as “amazing” or “best ever” we assume it probably is pretty good and are likely to give it a listen. However when two musicians with the pedigree that Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart have don’t receive such sweeping plaudits, one has to wonder what’s going on! It is after all the 3rd release from the pair so the formula is now tried, tested and welcomed by their collective fans. 

Opening with Give It Everything You Got, it features fuzzy guitars, a horns section and so much vibe that Ann Summers could use it as a new power source. Like Karen, the songs on the album that follow are also new to me but in a way that makes it a far more unique experience. Better to have songs that I’ve never heard before being reworked by Bonamassa and Hart than hearing what I would term as classics and then moaning at the new arrangements. There will always be a significant proportion of people that will argue the original is best and even more so with tracks that are commercially very well known. 

Working my way through the album, yes, Black Coffee does indeed ring a few bells on the familiarity scale as does Sittin’ On Top of The World, but they save what I think are the key tracks until the latter half of the album. When you look at the age of some of the originals with Lullaby of the Leaves harking back to 1964, originally recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, it’s no wonder that they don’t trigger memories unless you were a fan first time around.

LaVern Baker is covered on ‘Soul on Fire’ and ‘Saved’ and they really stand out for me as to the potential behind these collaborations. ‘Saved’ has already been covered by Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee, Billy Fury, Elkie Brooks and The Band, amongst others. Lucinda Williams ‘Joy’, Kansas Joe McCoy’s ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’ and if you don;t know it, Ike & Tina Turner on the title track all make for a fascinating blend suggesting the pair have knowledge on musical history far exceeding anything I can claim.

For me this is an interesting blend. It’s a strange brew that can be brought out when you’re looking for something different and a break from the norm. It’s a release to play with the family who get tired of ‘another rock album…’ 

SCORE: 8/10

REVIEWED BY ADRIAN HEXTALL

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