In 2011 Blues-rock singer Beth Hart and Blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa teamed up to record and release ‘Don’t explain’, an album of Soul cover versions. They covered songs from artists including Ray Charles, Tom Waits, Etta James and Aretha Franklin. Now two years on they’ve teamed up again to release a second album of soul covers – Seesaw.
Once again they’ve chosen a range of songs – some well known, others less so, with most having been originally recorded by legendary artists such as Billie Holiday, Etta James, Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. When covering songs made famous by artists of that calibre then the most important factor is not going to be the music so much as the vocals. This means that Beth Hart is the person who will make or break the album with her performance. Happily she has one hell of a voice with plenty of power when it’s needed, and which can carry so much emotion. Listening to the album there’s a wide range of vocal performances called for and she handles them all with ease. I really do think she has an amazing voice – one of the best singers around at the moment in my opinion.
One of the songs in particular on the album is very well known – Tina Turner’s ‘Nutbush city limits’ – it’s one of those songs that everybody knows. Taking on such a well known song is always a high-risk strategy since pretty much everyone who hears the cover version will already know the original, so they will (either consciously or unconsciously) compare the two versions closely. If the cover is done well then it can work brilliantly well as a great version of a well-loved song always goes down well, but the alternative is massive criticism if fans of the original feel that the new version isn’t up to scratch. Well if you watch the video below you can hear a clip of the song and see the recording so you can hear for yourselves that this really is a superb cover. The first thing that struck me watching the EPK video before I got the album to review was just how much Beth Hart gets into the swing of things – she doesn’t just stand there and sing but instead looks like she’s performing on stage and putting everything into it. It’s a stunningly good version – the vocals are spot on as is the music – it really is just perfect. What makes it even more extraordinary is that Beth Hart didn’t know they’d be recording the song till the last day of recordings when producer Kevin Shirley gave her thirty minutes notice that they’d be recording it, so with almost no preparation other than listening to the original, she put in a vocal performance that Tina Turner would have been proud of.
Brief comments on a few of the other tracks…
The album kicks off with ‘Them there eyes’. Opening with saxophone and horns, this has a great swinging feel to it – upbeat and fun.
‘Can’t let go’ opens with some nice rocky guitar, and is a great Southern Blues Rock song. It’s got a nice fast pace, the guitars are more prominent than in many of the other songs, and Beth Hart’s vocals are superb.
‘If I tell you that I love you’ sounds very different to the rest of the album. It’s got a strong Jazz flavour to it rather than Soul, and also has a French feel to it. In contrast to the loud rocky vocals in ‘Nutbush city limits’ the vocals here are soft and sultry.
The last song on the album is a soft and haunting version of ‘Strange fruit’, a song that’s been recorded by both Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. The lyrics come from a poem by Abel Meeropol about racism in the US, including lynchings – just check out these first few lines, “Southern trees bear strange fruit, Blood on the leaves, Blood at the root, Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze”. With lyrics like that then this soft haunting style is just perfect. Once again Beth Hart shows another side to her vocal talents and does so beautifully.
So, as you may have gathered from the above, I like this album – in fact I love it. After listening to it once I went online and ordered both this album and the previous one (Don’t explain). Yes it really is that good that it convinced me to buy a copy after just one listen. Now several days after getting the review copy itunes tells me I’ve apparently listened to the who album almost 20 times, and I’m loving it even more than I did after that first listen. The music is excellent, but the magic ingredient that really makes this album so special is Beth Hart’s vocals which are simply stunning. The ‘Don’t explain’ album is great but ‘Seesaw’ just takes it up to a whole new level, particularly with the vocal performances
Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa are doing a small number of European shows this summer, including one UK date at the Hampton Court festival on 24th June.
I really can’t recommend this album highly enough – it’s stunningly good.
‘Seesaw’ will be released in the UK on 20th May 2013.
1. Them there eyes
2. Close to my fire
3. Nutbush city limits
4. I love you more than you’ll ever know
5. Can’t let go
6. Miss lady
7. If I tell you I love you
9. A Sunday kind of love
11. Strange fruit