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Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa - Black Coffee (Album Review)

Tuesday, 06 February 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Natural chemistry, be it as a friend, lover or creative collaborator, rarely fades over time. Often, it grows exponentially stronger. That’s undoubtedly true of blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa and vocalist Beth Hart. It may be nearly five years since the pair last lit up some classics on ‘Seesaw’, but they’ve returned as though it was yesterday. The hitch, though, is that ‘Black Coffee’ is an uneven album that doesn’t quite do their combined talents justice.

When producer Kevin Shirley initially had the idea to put these two markedly different personalities together, his goal was to unearth some unfamiliar diamonds for them to breathe new life into. From R&B, gospel and soul to rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and country, 2011’s ‘Don’t Explain’ and ‘Seesaw’ succeeded in putting a fresh spin on overlooked gems.

For ‘Black Coffee’, Shirley’s once again excavated lesser known material and surrounded his star duo with an equally talented supporting cast.

Comprised of Bonamassa’s core band, as well as his regular live horn players and backing singers, this album’s trump card is an ensemble with intoxicating chemistry (that word again). It’s particularly apparent on Edgar Winter’s brass-propelled monster Give It Everything You Got and Lavern Baker’s beautifully romantic Soul on Fire.

The problem is that, with many of these musicians having featured regularly on Bonamassa’s albums and concert recordings since ‘Seesaw’, ‘Black Coffee’ doesn’t feel as unique anymore. At times, it could almost be one of the guitarist’s solo sojourns with Hart on vocals.

But is that such a bad thing? Whether she’s going all Jessica Rabbit on the toe-tapping, finger-clicking 1940s swinger Why Don’t You Do Right (originally by Lil Green) or delivering a powerhouse musical sermon courtesy of Leiber and Stoller’s breakneck gospel number Saved, she’s definitely this project’s MVP.  

And, it’s true that anyone who loved previous collaborations between Hart and Bonamassa will find much to enjoy here. But, ultimately, ‘Black Coffee’ is a relatively in your face effort. Its re-workings, as a result of a dense, overproduced sound, often lack the lightness of touch, variety and subtle shadings that made ‘Seesaw’ such a triumph.

Ella Fitzgerald's Lullaby of the Leaves, for example, is meant to be this record’s I’ll Take Care Of You or I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know. Yet its Bond theme ambience is overly dramatic and suffocating, with Hart’s vocal lines lacking the original’s unhurried charm. It’s one of a number of instances where less would have been more.  

The material here, and the way it’s presented, isn’t as consistently inspired as albums past, either. The most off the wall moment is a swampy, humid take on Waldeck’s 2007 trip-hop song Addicted. Although melding with the overarching stylistic palette nicely, it isn’t overly memorable or something you’ll want to spin repeatedly. The title track, meanwhile, is virtually identical to Humble Pie’s version and lacks the fresh edge Rival Sons recently brought to it.

‘Black Coffee’ certainly isn’t a dud, but on ‘Seesaw’ Hart and Bonamassa laid down such a benchmark of artistic excellence that anything less is a disappointment. At their best, after all, they’re one of the most unlikely and thrilling musical pairings on the block.

Joe Bonamassa Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri March 09 2018 - CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena Cardiff
Sat March 10 2018 - MANCHESTER Arena
Sun March 11 2018 - CARLISLE Carlisle Sands Centre
Tue March 13 2018 - ABERDEEN AECC BHGE Arena
Wed March 14 2018 - GATESHEAD Sage Gateshead
Fri March 16 2018 - BIRMINGHAM Genting Arena
Sat March 17 2018 - BRIGHTON Centre
Tue June 12 2018 - LONDON Hampton Court Palace

Click here to compare & buy Joe Bonamassa Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

Beth Hart Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue April 10 2018 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Thu April 12 2018 - IPSWICH Regent Theatre
Sat April 14 2018 - BEXHILL ON SEA De La Warr Pavilion
Sun April 15 2018 - NOTTINGHAM Royal Concert Hall
Wed April 18 2018 - OXFORD New Theatre Oxford
Thu April 19 2018 - FOLKESTONE Leas Cliff Hall
Sat April 21 2018 - CARDIFF St Davids Hall
Tue April 24 2018 - CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange
Thu April 26 2018 - BLACKPOOL Opera House
Fri April 27 2018 - HULL Hull City Hall
Sat April 28 2018 - HULL City Hall
Mon April 30 2018 - READING Hexagon
Tue May 01 2018 - PORTSMOUTH Guildhall
Fri May 04 2018 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall
Sat May 05 2018 - CHELTENHAM Big Top

Click here to compare & buy Beth Hart Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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