Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa

Black Coffee

(Provogue/Mascot Label Group)

The ace guitarist and ensemble reconvene to create another album with blues and soul singer Beth Hart..and maybe it’s their best yet ….


Four years on from the very successful SeeSaw album initial pairing of Joe and Beth (and associates) we have a new studio set now from the Mascot label with fresh choices of material. This, readers is Rhythm & Blues as we used to know it, long before Space Jam and the Vocoded likes of Jason Derulo…it’s where rawness (Beth’s trump card) and sophistication, a major feature of Bonamassa’s guitar art combine. Kevin Shirley produces but there is no real work to be done on encouraging this musical partnership, the magic is there. My certainty on this is cemented by my having seen the act give a blistering show at Hampton Court Palace.


The title track Black Coffee brings back memories of an Old Grey Whistle Test TV appearance by Humble Pie in which the late Steve Marriott and a female chorus marinated this Ike & Tina Turner number with sensual aplomb. Luckily the film of this performance can still be located. Not long ago I was talking about this footage with Steve’s daughter, Mollie Marriott. Not bad as an inspiration and in time may the duo catch up with the works of Bobby Womack. Bonamassa’s task on these new recordings is to marshal the band and light a fire under Hart ; I bet quite early on he is deciding which guitar he is going to use on a particular cut ! The sub-plot of this series of records is to revitalise classic songs of the past, some well-known but many not so familiar. Who better to do it ? This really is what you might term the Ry Cooder side of Bonamassa’s works, how often has that artist brought us a forgotten song with a new sprinkling of fairy dust ?


As regards personnel, regular attenders of JB shows will already appreciate the talents of  Anton Fig (Drums/Percussion), Ron Dziubla (Saxophone), Lee Thornburg (Horn Arrangements/Trumpet/Trombone), the fantastic Reese Wynans (Keyboards), Michael Rhodes (Bass), Rob McNelley(Rhythm Guitar), Paulie Cerra (Saxophone), Mahalia Barnes (Backing Vocals), Jade Macrae (Backing Vocals) and Juanita Tippins (Backing vocals). Fig is key to the arrangements, of course.


Give It Everything You Got is a number from a 1971 LP by Edgar Winter’s White Trash. As I know from talking to Edgar, those early fusions of soul and rock’n’roll stand up well today and back then he would mix such numbers with Ray Charles material and John D Loudermilk’s Tobacco Road when taking that lineup to the stage. It’s a bit of a sitter for Joe and Beth. A sheet of wah guitar and crisp horns provide a setting for Beth and her chorale to testify..and testify they do. Joe uses his wide wah sweep to wail as a jazzy horn chart blazes away. He does sound a lot like Eric Gales in attack mode, they can both set fire to a tune.


Damn Your Eyes plunges straight into deep blues territory with wild guitar an electric piano. Hart is in complete control as she sings it out on this late 80s Etta James workout. Bonamassa’s guitar spits out fills here and there and a lot of space is used compared to the blitzkrieg opening number. He holds nothing back on his solo, fast trills race up the neck. Beth makes the song hers, no problem.


Black Coffee is set to a laconic tempo, loping along as the Tina part is sung out by Hart and the bv singers. The Hammond is as church as you could ask for. Lullaby Of The Leaves comes from the musical Hello Dolly and was recorded by Ella Fitzgerald. Initially here Hart evokes Julie London. It shares with Summertime that humid summer evening mood, with passing jazz chords for colour. Listen to Beth cruise into the middle eight over tinkling piano and its resolve back to the verse ! Maybe the best vocal here. Joe opts not to solo until the coda and then in a fuzzy tone that sings out over the descending chords. Double stops abound.


Why Don’t You Do It Right has the wah threading into the stomping NYC style arrangement. The song is a stylish put-down job and Hart does it justice. The guitar break is biting – a 335 ? – and judiciously performed. A real finger-snapper of a song. Saved was made popular by Lavern Baker is a storming number and the band go hell-for-leather on this gospel outing. It’s a tad too frantic for this listener but exciting all the same. Next up we have Sitting On Top Of The World which is a song we have all heard far too often, so for me not a brilliant choice. Joy was I think written by Lucinda Williams, whose performance at Cornbury last year struck me as magnificent. It’s not a million miles from Black Coffee in feel and fits in this programme very well. The heavy backbeat will get the handclaps going if played live at any point. Joe is playing here as he does on Mahalia’s Betty Davis record. The closest I have heard him to Jeff Beck, batty hammer-ons the giveaway…


Soul On Fire hits Southern Soul territory and is melodic as well as hard-hitting, a great choice for this album ; Addicted comes from a 2007 album by Waldeck, so no dust on this one. Hart heard it and wanted to customise it. The tempo is close to reggae and Beth takes an early grip on the tune. Joe makes the best of the tempo as he doesn’t usually get near to this pacing and spins some fuzz runs. Closing cut on some editions is Baby I Love You, which I first heard by The Shirelles, it’s a Bacharach composition.


How does Beth get her head in the right space to put this material over ? “One of the things Jeff Beck had said to me once that I thought was so wonderful,” explains Hart, was “as soon as you get comfortable, and if you stay there, you’re just gonna start dying as an artist. And I feel that one of the gifts that I’ve got with working with Joe is that I’m always uncomfortable- in a good way. “ It’s akin to providing a painter with the finest canvas and top quality paint and brushes.


Recording ‘in the room’ is an essential part of the process, to capture that electricity rather than layer up the tracks and complete them that way. “It’s really predicated on the vocals,” Bonamassa explains. “We can’t cut these tunes without Beth singing and once she starts singing, it’s the glue that inspires us to get the extra 10% out of the playing. If we just cut them and sang later, the magic wouldn’t be there.”


The potential for further outings knows no limits – my humble suggestions for next time

are Moby Grape’s Can’t Be So Bad, Squeeze’s Another Nail In My Heart but moreover Esther Philips’ Cherry Red. (You can bet that Joe knows all about Joe Beck, not just Jeff !)

Pete Sargeant


(Thanks to the Mascot crew)

You can watch the official music video for 'Black Coffee' in this article.

Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa's new album 'Black Coffee' is out now on Provogue/Mascot Label Group.

For more information visit Mascot Label Group's official website here:

Beth Hart