No Depression Review
I’d not heard of Beth Hart until I was invited to see her early this year but I was mightily impressed by her performance and her recent recorded work; including her DON’T EXPLAIN collaboration with Joe Bonamassa; who I’ve ever really been enamoured by.
After being publicly disappointed with Bonamassa’s recent Live in Vienna Acoustic album I was surprised to find this album on my doorstep; but, intrigued I slid it into the player.
WOAH! Hold the horses! The opening saxophone break on Billie Holiday’s Them There Eyes nearly took my breath away and when Beth and the rest of the (Big) Band kicked in I was taken to a whole new place that I’d never have expected from this unlikely duo.
Beth, Joe and an assortment of quality musician’s sound like they are having the time of their lives on this well worn standard and I had to sit back, kick off my shoes and take this album seriously.
Ms. Hart follows that with a super-sexy song called Close to my Fire which is full of innuendo and suggestive phrasings and by the time the song ended I wished I still smoked as I certainly needed a cigarette; as you do under these circumstances.
Someone in the team has exquisite taste, as all eleven songs are completely different, but when pulled together in this manner become a complete album with everyone and everything playing their part.
One strange choice of song appeared to be Lucinda William’s Can’t Let Go which becomes a sassy R&B stomper with Bonamassa underplaying his guitar parts but still managing to let everyone know who the Bossman is, as Beth Hart does her best Etta James impersonation.
Things slow down and get a little Jazzy and indeed; funky on If I Tell You I Love You (I’m Lying) and; again both stars, surprise the listener with their ability to perform so well outside their comfort zones.
There are a couple of Etta James standards tucked in here, and by far the most memorable is Sunday Kind Of Love which has Bonamassa subtly competing with the string section of an orchestra as Beth admirably stops the song becoming a Power-ballad by singing well within herself. The original song was a favourite of her mother’s but I think this will become a favourite of her fans across the world.
Title track, Aretha’s Seesaw appears to have a Big Band swinging from the rafters as Joe gets to let rip with his guitar and Beth shows us what a great singer she really is on a real ding-dong of a song.
Which now brings me to the two songs that will be the most talked about: when I saw Beth at Sage Gateshead I nudged my brother and whispered ‘She’s not the new Janis – she’s the new Tina Turner!’ And; what has she recorded? Only Nutbush City Limits! If I was being harsh I would say it was note for note like the original; but what’s wrong with that? The original was first a hit in 1973 – FORTY years ago and some of her fans parents wouldn’t have been born then. Beth and Joe bring nothing new to the party; but boy does it sound like they were having a party and you can’t fault them for including it here.
The final song on SEESAW is possibly the oddest selection and a song that Beth Hart must have deliberated over recording; as it is such a Classic and one that leaves no room for error – Strange Fruit. Beth sings the words with as much compassion as she can muster and Bonamassa creates a spooky atmosphere by bending the notes as they come out of his guitar while the band manages to play with the reverence the song deserves making this particular version; something of a triumph.
Although Beth Hart is best known as a singer-songwriter under her own steam, Joe Bonamassa is an interpreter of song and that’s what we get with SEESAW – a heady mixture of eleven classic and contemporary songs done in their own, inimitable R&B style with the singer, songs, guitarist and band all bouncing off each other creating what very well might become a career defining album for both Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa.