Comebacks don’t get much sweeter than Beth Hart’s. This is her second powerful covers album in as many years featuring blues guitar slinger Joe Bonamassa. Add a recent solo release and viral vocal work with Jeff Beck for a well-deserved career reboot most would covet.
Hart’s name is before Bonamassa’s on both of their pairings, which is where it belongs. Her tough, meaty voice grips these songs and while these versions may not be definitive — can anyone best Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Etta James or Billie Holiday’s originals? — she does them justice. For his part, Bonamassa wisely restrains himself from the spotlight stealing, guitar shredder role that has made him one of the most visible contemporary blues rockers. His parts on this second go-round with Hart are more supportive, tasty and controlled than on their previous alliance.
Producer Kevin Shirley helped choose the stylistically eclectic material that ranges from Ike and Tina Turner’s rollicking “Nutbush City Limits” to one of Etta James’ most tender classic ballads, “Sunday Kind Of Love.” He also found the sweet spot between sassy and subtle in Hart and Bonamassa’s terrific performances, giving the former room to reinterpret these songs and keeping the latter from elbowing in. From the opening frisky 30-40’s big band of “Them There Eyes” to the closing, riveting take on “Strange Fruit,” the album’s mood seesaws like its title implies. Digging deep into the soul rock back pages yields a slowed down, wicked take on Al Kooper’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” and an explosive reading of Buddy Miles’ “Miss Lady” that features one of Hart’s most dynamic rock vocals. Following it with Melody Gardot’s swanky cabaret “If I Tell You I Love You” shows how versatile a singer Hart is, as Bonamassa lays back, providing reverbed backing that stays out of her way.
Just as good, and arguably better, than their first collaboration, this sympathetic partnership will thrill established fans as well as new listeners and will hopefully continue for many future editions.