Beth Hart/Joe Bonamassa - 'Don't Explain' (ProVogue) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Thursday, 06 October 2011 05:30

Joe-Bonamassa-Beth-Hart-Dont-Explain-CDCollaborations are weird enterprises and usually result in one of three outcomes - the downright awful (as evinced by the soon-to-come-our-way Metallica/Lou Reed abortion), the completely mediocre (in the vast majority of cases) or the rare work of complete genius.


So, where does this project involving the first true blues legend of the 21st century, Mr Joe Bonamassa, and the acclaimed but highly under-rated soul singer Beth Hart, fit into the above assessment?  Thankfully, very much into the latter category.


Opener 'Sinner's Prayer' pretty much sets the mood for what is to come, kicking off with a dirty double bass and slide before Beth saunters in with the refrain lyric of "Lord have mercy" and delivering one of the most powerful blues-soul performances since Joplin.


The New Orleans swing swamp-blues 'Chocolate Jesus' sees Hart putting a whole new twist on Tom Waits' irreverent lyrics, while 'Your Heart Is As Black As Night' is a sultry jazz torch song which really showcases Hart's breathless raspy vocal style. The Bill Withers-penned 'For My Friends' is the first track to showcase Bonamassa's guitar and is a full on ballsout blues rock powerhouse of a tune.


The project moves into pretty treacherous waters as the duo take on the Etta James classic 'I'd Rather Go Blind',  but the result is one which features more understated guitar work, with a beautiful solo, and a heart-breaking breath-snatching hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck-raising vocal performance of sheer quality.


Flipping over (yes folks, we're doing this uber classic style and listening to it on good old fashioned vinyl - can't beat it personally) to the title track, Billie Holiday's signature 'Don't Explain' transports you back to the smoky jazz clubs of the '30s, with another beautifully understated performance from Bonamassa, who seems more than content to play the supporting role to Hart's sultry vocals.


'Something's Got A Hold On Me' - the second Etta James track featured - delivers Hart's dirtiest vocal, starting off with a traditional jazz duel between herself and the band and then transcending into a glorious gospel-infused up tempo romper stomper destined to shake even the most unshakeable booty.


'I'll Take Care Of You' is a beautiful piano led ballad, featuring one of Bonamassa's most soulful performances, with Hart's vocal once again soaring like a broken down angel, touching all the peaks and troughs of emotion that a song like this deserves: the solo is sublime and Beth once more earns her Joplin tag with her raw, earthy performance. 'Well, Well' sees Bonamassa step up to the mic for the first and only time, but again takes a background role in a swaggering country-rock stroll steeped in the soul which infuses this entire album.


The album closes with the Aretha Franklin classic 'Ain't No Way' - again reflecting the ambition of this project - which features a beautiful slide guitar opener against a backdrop of aching strings, brushed snare and organic organ, before Hart's vocal once more moves naturally into the groove and Bonamassa's guitar gently weeps in perfect harmony with a perfect performance.

All in all, this is one of those albums where, if you're of a certain generation (or even if you're not), you pack the kids off to their granny for the weekend, fluff up the pillows, get in the JD and red wine, put the CD player on repeat and...