Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa “Don’t Explain”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#518 in the Series) is Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, Don’t Explain

I have been waiting for one of hot-shot guitar slingers to separate themselves from the pack, and with this collaboration with Blues/Soul/Rock singer Beth Hart Joe Bonamassa has clearly vaulted himself head and shoulders above his blues-rock brothers Jonny Lang and Kenney Wayne Sheppard.  He continues to take on interesting and eclectic projects and this one, much like his earlier 2011 release Dustbowl features a collaboration that fits perfectly with his musical tastes, his personality, and his ability to play slow blues, dirty blues, and soulful blues.

Don’t Explain is collaboration in the true sense of the word with Joe doing the heavy lifting and flexing his muscles with some of his grittiest work to date, and Beth providing the brashness, the sexiness and the swagger.  History will also look back on this record as the coming out party for Beth Hart.

Given her tough family circumstances growing up, her heroin addicted teen years, and the struggles she experienced navigating the sometimes dark and lonesome streets of the music business, If anyone has the right to sing the blues it is Beth Hart.  In fact, not only does she have the right to sing the blues, some might say she has the obligation.

Somewhat of a musical child prodigy starting to play at age 4, Beth, as is the case with most musical prodigies, cut her first set of baby teeth on the classical works of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and the rest of the pantheon of great classical artists.  This early “music teacher influenced” appreciation for the great works soon gave way to Nina Simone, Etta James, Led Zeppelin and the more hedonistic rock and roll musical masters.

Well on her way to a musical career at age 4, by the time she was 5 her father had been arrested for drug dealing and was imprisoned.  Her parents divorced shortly after his release, and by the time she was 11 Beth was a habitual user of drugs and alcohol.  Continuing to follow her musical muse she ended up being discovered while busking on the Santa Monica pier famously known as the locale for Hank Moody’s place on the Showtime series Californication.

Only two albums into her career  while appearing on the Jay Leno show in support of her 1999 release, Screaming For My Supper , her record company after seeing her performance where she was a drug and alcohol addicted mere 108 pounds and looked to show definite signs of anorexia, dropped her from the label. Shortly after this setback things went from dismal to desperate as she as she was arrested for filling out false medical prescriptions of Klonopin, a drug she had been using, and quickly over using, to help her stop drinking and control her appetite.

Rising quickly from this low point, Beth resurrected her life and her career though counseling, drug and alcohol rehab, and most importantly the support of her then roadie, now husband, Scott Guetzkow.

Starting with the 2004 release of Leave the Light On and the follow-up live album 37 Days in 2007, Beth turned the writing spotlight on herself writing tight, concise, autobiographical songs that could showcase the emotional depth of her Janis Joplin meets Bonnie Raitt with a side order of Bon Scott raspy vocal style that seems to come from the deep down of some unearthly place somewhere, maybe even from a barstool stool next to Tom Waits.

Her collaboration with Joe Bonamassa seems to be a perfect meeting of musical kindred spirits, a sort of “he’s my brother from a different mother” symbiotic relationship formed by a mutual talent admiration society based on a deep respect for each other’s work, and a common love for the Deep Blues and the same balls-out emotive songs that deliver feelings that start at the toes, tingle the groin, and end up moving the heart.

The first song on the album is Ray Charles’s “Sinners Prayer”.  You learn all you need to know about her prior travails and road to redemption when she sings, or rather almost snarls

Well I’ve been  a bad girl baby/I declare I’ll change my ways/I don’t want bad luck and trouble to follow me all my days/please have mercy, lord have mercy on me/ well if I’ve done somebody wrong lord/ have mercy on me please.

The wailing almost mournful slide guitar on this song complements the despair in her voice perfectly and sets the emotional tone for the rest of the album.

Showing the pair has a hip, contemporary side the second son the Tom Waits classic “Chocolate Jesus” invokes Beth’s inner Amy Winehouse and is a picture perfect cover version.

The third song Melody Gardot’s “You’re Heart is as Black as Night” slows down the pace a bit with Beth putting on her Nina Simone voice against a backdrop of lush string arrangements and Les Paul inspired guitar chords.

The clear centerpiece is the masterful rendition of the classic song “I’d Rather Go Blind” that starts with a typical Stax sounding string interlude followed by the powerful entrance of Beth’s vocals layered with the slow-hand guitar of Bonamassa, a masterful, emotional, powerful, performance, that comes very close in emotive quality to the original Etta James version.

The pace picks up considerably with the Delaney and Bonnie song “Well Well” a bouncy, jaunty tune with Joe stepping up and trading vocals with Beth as she does Bonnie Raitt proud and with the Aretha Franklin influenced almost revival sounding song, “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” which features some prominent Hammond organ riffs, always a good thing.  While these songs are not the best on the album it does show the attention to detail that went into the production of the album as far as the pacing and mood setting is concerned, the song placement is spot-on.

If you were a Beth Hart virgin prior to reading this review, do yourself a further favor and go back and listen to her “Leave The Light On” album, especially the title track.  Be warned, the song will make you cry.

If you are a wise, old musical owl and are familiar with Beth Hart and her music, go back and listen to her album “Live at the Paradiso”.  You will hear an artist hitting her stride and ready to be that years-in the-making overnight success she deserves to be.

— Walt Falconer

Track Listing

  1. Sinner’s Prayer (Fulson, Glenn) 4:27
  2. Chocolate Jesus (Brennan, Waits) 2:39
  3. Your Heart Is as Black as Night (Gardot) 5:00
  4. For My Friends (Withers) 4:11
  5. Don’t Explain (Herzog, Holiday) 4:34
  6. I’d Rather Go Blind (Foster, Jordan) 8:06
  7. Something’s Got a Hold on Me (James, Kirland) 6:05
  8. I’ll Take Care of You (Benton) 5:13
  9. Well, Well (Bramlett) 3:42
  10. Ain’t No Way (Franklin) 6:47

Personnel

  • Beth Hart – Piano, Vocals
  • Joe Bonamassa – Guitar, Vocals
  • Blondie Chaplin – Guitar
  • Anton Fig – Drums, Percussion
  • Carmine Rojas -Bass
  • Arlan Scheirbaum – Keyboards

Links

Here’s a great interview with the two of them.

 


Posted by Larry Carta


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