Music News Review

Last time around the pairing of Beth Hart with Joe Bonamassa got the Bonamassa fans drooling but now we have had some time to absorb the experience we begin to realise that Beth Hart is a truly wonderful singer in her own right and Bonamassa’s contribution is NOT the only thing to listen for.

The theme this time around is covers of classic Blues and Soul and Ms Hart really shows her vocal talents to the roof. ‘Them There Eyes’ is an old Billie Holiday number from 1939 and Hart really gives it the full jazz-burn treatment but ‘Close To My Fire’ – a 2012 ‘classic’ – is stunning with a bluesy and enormously sultry performance. Bonamassa’s playing is fine and the band are just perfect behind her smoke and fire.

You wouldn’t think that anyone could beat the Tina Turner ‘Nutbush’ and at the start of the song it is difficult to really hear the difference but she builds it into a balls-out rampaging monster of a number with an awesome vocal and the band powering away like a juggernaut. I actually prefer it to the Turner version in some respects – less of the cackling witch and more of the righteous anger.

Donny Hathaway’s ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’ gets the treatment with a version somewhere between Donny Hathaway and Amy Winehouse and more than a touch of Aretha to it. JB’s guitar is so subtle but it makes the song work and the result is wondrous.

The songs are perfect for Hart’s voice and the production is just right – Kevin Shirley at his best – and they just keep coming at you one after the other. Lucinda William’s ‘Can’t Let Go’ is dynamite and Buddy Miles & Hendrix’s ‘Miss Lady’ with one of the rawest vocals you could ever imagine is brilliant. Melody Gardot’s ‘If I Tell You I Love You’ has the sassy edge that Gardot brings to it while the couple of Etta James numbers – ‘Rhymes’ & ‘Sunday Kind Of Love’ – show who Hart’s heroine is. ‘Seesaw’ is a big number with Hammond and horns – just what you would expect from a Don Covay & Steve Cropper link up.

The album closes with a version of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’. This was originally a poem by Abel Meeropol about racism, slavery and lynching in the Deep South and Holiday’s version was one of the most outrageous songs ever to be performed in the late 30’s and 40’s. This version is based on Nina Simone’s and to hear it sung by a white woman is rare and risky but she puts over the horror of the bodies hanging from the trees – the Strange Fruit – in such a way as to chill you to the bone. Bonamassa adds some incredible guitar, perfect in its darkness and density – if the two of them recorded nothing else this would stand as a career moment.

All told, a stunning album. I rarely give top marks for a covers album but this is so well made and Hart’s voice so fine that it fully deserves top marks. Awesome.