Review: Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa. Seesaw.
Bop! ‘You have a cute way of flirting, makes me feel so good’ punches in the opening track “Them There Eyes”, encompassing swinging big band sounds which will be something of a listening revolution for core Joe Bonamassa fans. From the first note of “Seesaw” fronted by Beth Hart’s vocals, the album breaks from tradition, taking the listener on a challenging life journey, visiting every emotion and culminating with a harsh death by hanging.
The aptly named new album opens vaults of classic Blues, Folk & Soul classics all originally made famous by other American artists going as far back as 1939. Testing the sharpness of their own cutting edges as they apply their own trademark on these pressings, “Seesaw” is the second collaboration album between Los Angeles based singer Beth Hart and Chicago Blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa, released on Monday 20th May by Provogue Records. Only five European dates have been set for Mid June and these are all sold out.
In 1970, another outfit were also selling out all of their gigs within hours as they experimented with, and cut their teeth, on traditional blues standards. Led Zeppelin did actually compose the fourth track on their third album which was titled “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and clocked in at over 9 minutes, longer by half again of all the other tracks. Jimmy Page had to leave the studio mid session many times to think about what he was laying down; it turned out to become a powerful statement in musical history.
Parallels to Zep are drawn here as Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa lay down their own fourth track at over seven minutes, deeply exploring “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”, a song originally composed by Donny Hathaway in 1972 who was assigned to the famous Atlantic Record Label. Led Zeppelin also began their recording career on Atlantic and it is a fitting comparison that Bonamassa’s guitar on “More than you’ll Ever Know” hauntingly echoes Pages legendary work on “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, surely unintentional by Bonamassa, but the comparison is drawn merely to demonstrate how seriously this new work should be taken.
This 2013 version of “I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know” could also become a classic in its own right, time will tell, as the gut wrenching performance of Hart declares: ‘If I ever leave you baby, you can say I told you so, and if I ever hurt you, you can say I hurt myself as well. When I wasn’t making much money, you know where my pay check went’. The result is Hart & Bonamassa Passion-Play performance rarely witnessed “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Page & Plant. Tragically, Donny Hathaway, famous for his works with Roberta Flack, committed suicide at the Essex Hotel in New York in 1979. In some way, Beth Hart brings a passion in her vocal which pays great respect to Hathaway, the only other person having covered this song with passionate effect being Amy Winehouse.
“Seesaw” is also the title of one of the album tracks, originally recorded by Aretha Franklin in 1968, high energy with lots of ups and downs. Beth Hart carries the vocal range of Aretha Franklin throughout the album, in fact, this new release daringly takes on songs originally written by artists with a pedigree few would dare to cover and challenge.
“Nutbush City Limits” would be off limit for most vocalists but in this rendition Beth Hart puts down a vocal of which Tina herself would be proud. There are 10 other songs which all have this quality, just what to pick in a nutshell?
In a similar vein Jimi Hendrix would be fiercely proud of “Miss Lady”, a song he originally produced for Buddy Miles. The vocal part for this song is so demanding that after one day of recording, Beth felt her voice was shot and was not up to another performance. Producer, Kevin Shirley, begged her to do one last quicker take which she simply screamed out and he kept it in, job superbly done.
Having forced out such gravelly vocal performances from so many class acts over so many decades it becomes transparent as to why Mr. Shirley has been such a successful producer for Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowe’s and Bonamassa himself.
Images of Inspector Jacques Clouseau of “Pink Panther” movie fame take over as a Parisian cabaret “If I Tell You I Love You” sweeps through a smoke filled room. This is a sultry, jazzy rendition of a Melody Gardot song, inspired by a bustling urban Paris, France rather than the isolated ranches of Paris, Texas.
“Rhymes” conjures up a horn section reminiscent of “Earth Wind & Fire” lighting up the dance floor. It turns out that Beth Hart has every album made by Etta James and she went through every single one in order to locate a track which drew on the “bottom end stuff” of singing, creating an ‘attitude’ but somehow at the same time with a real ‘innocence’.
On “Sunday Kind of Love” Beth Hart draws some soulful justice for her Mother, who gave her faith and allowed her to collect all those Etta James recordings, and from whom she drew her early inspiration.
The duo close their incredible journey with a haunting version of “Strange Fruit”, a song first performed in 1939 by Billie Holiday, but which began its own life as a poem by the teacher Abel Meeropol, as it exposed American racism and the lynching of African Americans. Meeropol set it to music and performed it as a protest in New York venues along with his wife and the singer Laura Duncan.
With the thoughts of the Hangman we return in spirit to Led Zep III and the Gallows Pole, “Hangman, wait a little while, my sister is coming to rescue me”. Beth Hart is that sister which ensures that this project will overcome any hangmen doubters. Supported by a slick Bonamassa the duo cast away ropes around the neck, chains and shackles in order to deliver some powerful messages not only about our musical heritage but also about the recent history of mankind.
Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa: “Seesaw” written by Tim Price May 12th 2013