If he keeps it up at this rate, Joe Bonamassa may just go down as the busiest, if not greatest, blues musician of the 21st century.
The self proclaimed Mayor of Nerdsville has a truly uncanny ability of putting out consistently brilliant albums; 14 studio albums and counting, with even more live albums and concert films along with his many side projects like Black Country Communion and long time producer Kevin Shirley. Bonamassa’s most fruitful collaboration has been with vocalist Beth Hart. A musical marriage made in heaven, the pair have already released two largely successful albums and now they have returned with their third studio album, ‘Black Coffee’.
The albums opens with the big up tempo funk of ‘Give it Everything You Got’, an obscure Edgar Winter song, it’s been given a new lease of life here with Bonamassa’s dirty funk guitar and searing solos, a perfect foil for Hart’s sledgehammer delivery - a fantastic opener! ‘Damn Your Eyes’ is just superb, turning the latter day Etta James number from a great soul song into a stunning one. Bonamassa’s guitar work is particularly on the money, following the kind of technically brilliant yet laid back playing that reminds me of late era Prince.
Next up the title track - originally by British blues rock legends Humble Pie and more recently covered by young guns Rival Sons, ‘Black Coffee’ is solid song in any skilled hands. While it doesn’t stray musically from previous versions, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, played with a lot of soul and Hart’s killer voice it’s still a great song and probably a showstopper in a live concert setting too. Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Lullaby Of The Leaves’ sounds like it has been given a makeover to become James Bond theme song. Beautiful and fluid , Hart’s voice is flawless when following the twists and turns of smoky jazz singing, before Bonamassa blows in with a typically brilliant extended solo; One of the very best songs on the album.
Originally by Peggy Lee (or Jessica Rabbit depending on your age), ‘Do Right By Me’ is a cool and enticing jazz number which finds Hart and Bonamassa taking the big band route, laying on the horns, guitars and backing singers to great effect. The gospel rock of ‘Saved’ is a very enjoyable diversion. Although it may lack a touch of the fiery conviction and style of Elvis’s version, it does boast a searing blues solo from Bonamassa which just about makes up for it.
The stone-cold blues classic ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ has been covered more times that I would care to mention, most famously by Cream in the late 60s. While its less sweetly melancholic than The Cream version and certainly less original than the ferocious Chris Goss cover it sounds just right here - not too hot or too cold. Joe Bonamassa takes the lead with his spectacular soling while Beth Hart’s delivery (not to mention Anton Fig’s drums) means the song still swings.
If this album does have any surprises then it’s ‘Joy’. Originally a straight-forward country blues song by Lucinda Williams, this new version is a stronger, more modern song that sounds closer to Royal Blood. Combined with some blistering guitar work from Bonamassa, they give the song a bounce that the original lacked. Hart’s voice is so strong it can match Bonamassa’s guitar step for step and it’s a joy to hear.
‘Soul On Fire’ is another old-school soul song which allows the band to settle back while Beth Hart sings her heart out. The album ends with a twist of the eclectic and unexpected – ‘Addicted’, originally by an Austrian down tempo trip-hop trio called Waldeck. With its funky, almost reggae bass line and seductive beat it’s certainly an unexpected way to close the album but it actually works.
Overall it’s another great Blues Rock and Soul album with some fabulous, and even unexpected, highlights. I call it one of the best blues albums of 2017.
Check them out at:
Give It Everything You Got
Damn Your Eyes
Lullaby Of The Leaves
Why Don’t You Do Right
Sitting On Top Of The World
Soul On Fire