Don't Explain

Beth Hart / Joe Bonamassa

J&R Adventures, 2011

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


On paper, this seems like the perfect matchup. The premier blues guitarist of the decade and the premier female soul/blues singer of the decade, collaborating at last over a shared love of the backbone of American music. Covers of Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Delaney & Bonnie, and, um, Tom Waits form this 10-song set, which fluidly moves between blues, soul, and R&B numbers.

Yet the disc belongs to Hart, who is a revelation here; on the strength of this disc alone, the listener wants to seek out her back catalog. She brings a throaty, sultry growl to the music that is every much an instrument as the guitars, building on the legacy of Holliday, James, and Janis Joplin without copying them outright.

Hart approaches each song differently, using a fried country voice for “I’ll Take Care Of You,” a gospel approach on “Something’s Got A Hold On Me,” and a painful blues drawl on “I’d Rather Go Blind.” It’s painful because of the hurt in the way she sings, with the intensity broken up by a welcome guitar solo that allows the listener to not only catch a breath but get drawn in further to the world. One can see the blue smoke and Hart sitting on a stool in the corner, leaned over the mic, whiskey on the rocks on the stage, shutting her eyes and feeling it all flow through her.

Covering such a stylistic range means there are bound to be unmemorable pieces, and while nothing is an outright clunker, songs like “Chocolate Jesus,” “Ain’t No Way,” and the busy “Don’t Explain” just don’t go anywhere. The upbeat stomp and great bass work of “Well, Well” is a highlight and the only duet with Bonamassa on the disc, while “For My Friends,” despite a somewhat annoying stop-start verse, is a heavy groover that would work on any of Joe’s solo albums.

Although Bonamassa’s name is on the marquee, he relegates himself to mostly a background role here, although his solos and fills are of the usual high quality, with no wasted notes or flash. The band plays with intensity and verve as well. Fans of Bonamassa’s records may wish the guitarist stepped out a little more here, but fans of those records tend to love modern blues and will enjoy this anyway.

Don’t Explain falls short of a modern classic, especially compared to Bonamassa’s solo 2011 disc Dust Bowl, but Hart’s vocal power and the strength of the performances make the best songs here compelling, breathing new life into old songs and singers and proving the genre is far from played out.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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