All the best rock ‘n’ roll partnerships come out of the blue. And in January 2022, as the three classic albums by Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa are reissued on premium 180-gram vinyl, it’s a timely reminder of the flash of serendipity that threw together LA’s honey-rasp warrior princess with the guitarist who reinvigorated post-millennium blues.
Today, we recognise Hart and Bonamassa as one of the great roots duos: a two-headed force of nature who send up a shower of sparks every time they get together. And if you needed reminding, just drop the needle on 2011’s Don’t Explain, 2013’s Seesaw and 2018’s Black Coffee – three albums that have never looked classier than in their new transparent vinyl reissue, nor sounded better than the 180-gram format whose rich audio palette captures every last shiver of vibrato.
But cast your minds back. Before 2011’s Don’t Explain, Hart and Bonamassa were very different beasts. She was the classiest act on the California circuit, melding blues, soul, jazz, rock and pop on albums like Screaming For My Supper, and collaborating with giants including Slash and Jeff Beck. He was the newly anointed king of blues, handed the crown by Eric Clapton at a landmark Albert Hall show in 2009. Even their personalities were poles apart. “I’m high-strung,” considers Hart, with a smile. “And he’s mellow.”
The pair had worked the same circuit, and Bonamassa had even watched a “killer” show by Hart in London that pricked up his antennae. But in summer 2010, as the guitarist sat up late in the studio listening to Ike and Tina Turner, he imagined a contemporary soul project of his own. All he needed was the perfect voice. “So I got a call from Joe asking if I wanted to do a record,” recalls Hart. “And we just instantly clicked.”
The pair went back and forth, chalking up a shortlist of soul covers. “I brought in Chocolate Jesus by Tom Waits and Aretha Franklin’s Ain’t No Way,” recalls Hart of a setlist that also took in Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain, Bill Withers’ For My Friend, Ray Charles’ Sinner’s Prayer and Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind. But by the time producer Kevin Shirley put the duo through his whip-cracking studio process – three takes maximum – these old standards crackled with a modern fire that still ignites the speakers on this new 180-gram vinyl reissue.
Don’t Explain became one of Provogue’s best-selling albums (in total, the duo’s three albums have moved over 300,000 copies in Europe). And while both artists had their own acclaimed solo careers to helm, the chemistry was too good to ignore. Drop the new transparent vinyl edition of Seesaw onto your turntable and you’ll rediscover a sequel that raised the stakes. Named after (and covering) the classic Aretha Franklin track, Seesaw showed off the pair’s interpretive skills with cuts including Billie Holiday (Them There Eyes) and Melody Gardot (If I Tell You I Love You). “With this material, there’s a gentleness to the way Beth delivers the most heartfelt tunes,” noted Bonamassa of a Grammy-nominated set that charted across Europe.
Released in 2018, Black Coffee was the perfect finale (for now): a third album that brought new blood and thunder to the songbooks of Edgar Winter, Steve Marriott, Ella Fitzgerald, Howlin’ Wolf and Lucinda Williams. Even today, Black Coffee remains an album so ambitious that the reissue demands two discs of vinyl, complete with a bonus track (Ray Charles’ Come Rain Or Come Shine) that offers a never-before-heard window into the sessions.
The sound of white-hot chemistry never gets old. And with these new vinyl reissues – released January 2022 on Mascot/Provogue – the birth of Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa as a combined force has lost none of its power. “With Joe,” remembers the singer, “I felt like I could just fly…”
Don’t Explain, Seesaw and Black Coffee are released on transparent 180-gram vinyl On January 21. For more details, see their online store (opens in new tab)