Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa | Don’t Explain
This album is a collection of songs originally recorded Billie Holiday, Etta James, Tom Waits, Ray Charles, Delaney & Bonnie, Bill Withers, and Aretha Franklin. If you’re not into that – if you’re not into blues & soul – you won’t like the album.
I’ve been a Beth Hart fan for a long time now. Recall the time I flew to Philly to see her at a little bar called “The Blockley”, or when I challenged Zakk Wylde & Black Label Society to try and cover her song, “Immortal”. Then there was the review of her album “My California”, as well as her inclusion on the “Top 12 Sexiest Songs Ever Recorded”1, where Beth brought home not one, not two, not three, but FOUR of the top 12 songs, to include the number one song – the sexiest goddamn song ever recorded, “Am I the One”. This, for my long time fans, readers, and groupies, will come as no surprise: I’m unapologetically crazy about Beth Hart.
What may come as a surprise is Joe Bonomassa. A surprise because (#1) you’d never heard of him and (#2) because you’d never heard me rave about him. Well, lemme ‘splain somethin to ya’ll. Joe Bonomassa is an insanely talented guitar player. I’ve been listening to Joe since he started playing in his first band, Bloodline2, which released their debut (and only) album back in 1994. Come to think of it, I’ve been listening to Joe longer than I’ve been listening to Beth. Anyway, when word started goin’ round that Beth & Joe were doing a project together, I was on the short list of people who said, “I will have this album within 24 hours of its release, even if it means I have to kill innocent people to get it.” I’m just kidding, I didn’t really say that, and I’m not sure why I would say that I did. #weird
Back to the album. It’s good. I like it. You might like it too. In fact, I’m gonna throw down a challenge: First person to Tweet this article so that @BethHart and/or @JBONAMASSA reply to @blogfullofpants saying, “Blogfullofpants Rocks!” will get a free copy of the new album burned to a disc and mailed to them. And to sweeten the deal, I’m considering whether or not to include a photo of myself naked.
Back to the album. There’s 10 songs by 9 different artists. Etta James gets two tracks. Since I’m a fan of Etta James, this is a plus as far as I’m concerned.
Track #1: Sinner’s Prayer
Originally recorded by Ray Charles. Beth’s version is slow, strong, bluesy as hell, deliberate, and… “solid”, if that makes any sense? Again, if language were sufficient (which it isn’t), then why the music?” Love the “hip swinging” vibe of this tune. Love Beth’s vocals (always) when she hits the “been a bad girl, baby” part of this song.
Track #2: Chocolate Jesus
Beth is a fan of the Tom Waits version, but I think it (Tom’s version) sucks. Sorry Tom, but Beth’s version is SOOOOOO much better, in my opinion. No comparison. Plus, there’s the whole, “Is she really singing about a chocolate Jesus, or is she sining about something else?” element that Beth brings to the song that Tom just can’t. Beth wins. She’s been doing this song live for years (she played it at the Blockley), but this is the first time she’s ever put it on an album. Way cool.
Track #3: Your Heart Is As Black As Night (Melody Gardot)
I’d never heard of Melody Gardot before, but she reminds me of Diana Krall. Really cool song, and Beth does an awesome job covering it. This song is the sonic equivalent of good Scotch. It’s a red velvet cupcake with a cup of kick-ass coffee on a cold, winter day. It’s a smokey jazz bar, dark & sultry, with Beth hypnotizing the crowd with her seductive voice. And I believe her when she says, “Your heart is black as night.” She sells me in that I believe she won’t give in to temptation, no matter what her heart is telling her to do. It’s an angel on one shoulder, a devil on the other.
Track #4: For My Friend (Bill Withers) Lean on Me
I absolutely LOVE “Lean on Me” via Withers, but I’d never heard of “For my friend” before, and dood…this song is heavy, and bad-ass, and sounds like Beth teamed up with Led Zeppelin on this track. Definitely a MUCH more aggressive version than Withers did, and it fits Beth’s style. And I love these lyrics!
One of us has to say he’s sorry
Or we will never be friends again
Lets have a drink and talk it over
I want to keep you for my friend
We’re here today and gone tomorrow
None of us knows when life will end
I’ve said some things that caused you sorrow
But I want to keep you for my friend
This is in perfect agreement with Ringu Tulku (Daring Steps Toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Buddhism), when he says:
“Generally speaking, most problems in friendships and families come from thinking that relationships and situations will never end.” ~ “But when we know in our hearts that by having come together we will naturally be separated sooner or later, there is neither reason nor need to fight. We should use the opportunity of being together as best we can.”
For what it’s worth, the best (short) version of this concept I’ve ever heard goes like this: “It’s easier to leave angry words unspoken than to mend a heart those words have broken.”
Track #5: Don’t Explain (Billie Holiday)
How awesome do you have to be to even think about covering Billie Holiday, much less to be doing it, and knocking it out of the park. For this song, Beth takes us back to that smokey bar in “Your Heart Is As Black As Night”. Same feeling, same vibe. And the lyrics! Dear lord, I dare you not to be moved!
Hush now, don’t explain
Just say you’ll remain
Unless you’re mad, don’t explain
My love, don’t explain
What is there to gain
Skip that lipstick
You know that I love you
And what loving does
All my thoughts are real
For I’m so completely yours
Try to hear folks chatter
And I know you cheat
Right or wrong, don’t matter
When you’re with me, sweet
Hush now, don’t explain
You’re my love and pain
My life’s your love
#lump_in_throat (“Bad love is good enough”, anyone?)
Track #6: I’d Rather Go Blind (Etta James)
First, I like this song. However, and I feel guilty for saying this, but I don’t think anybody can touch Etta James. Etta is just off the charts amazing. Beth is the only singer alive (with the possible exception of Christina Aguilera. Yes I did just say that. If you thought Christina was all tits & ass, well you’re just wrong. She’s also a pretty face and killer, powerful, sit-down-and-smack-you-in-the-mouth, “I had no idea”, rock-friggin-solid voice. Anyway.) who could even come close. And she does come close – but, I dunno…I guess when I think of “I’d rather go blind”, I hear Etta James. Don’t get me wrong, Beth does an AMAZING cover – better than anybody else could do (let’s just be honest about that), but it’s not Etta James. #donthatemebeth Still, I listen to this song all the way through every time it plays.
Track #7: Something’s Got A Hold On Me (Etta James)
Funny I should mention Christina Aguilera. Still, Christina’s got nothing on Beth Hart, and on this tune I call it a draw (between Beth & Etta, not between Beth & Christina. Please.) LOVE her vocals in the intro to this tune! She just growls! And boom! Next thing you know your foot is tappin, and you’re snapping your fingers and wrists simultaneously. Just a good, happy, bluesy (that’s not a contradiction) song!
Track #8: I’ll Take Care Of You (Brook Benton)
I think this is my favorite track on the album. Just can’t say enough about the masterful restraint Joe shows on guitar. It’s there, in the background – Beth’s vocals are the showpiece – but Joe’s guitar playing on this is just so damned perfect and minimalist. And here’s what this song is all about:
I loved and lost
Same as you
So you see I know
Just what you’ve been through
So if you’ll let me
Here’s what I’ll do
I got to take care of you
You won’t ever have to worry
You won’t ever have to cry
I’ll be there beside you
To dry your weeping eyes
Track #9: Well, Well / Getting To Know You So Well (Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett)
What a cool tune! I’d never head it before, and I’m so glad they put it on this album. This is the only time we get to hear Joe’s vocals on the album (yes, he can sing) and they just *nail* this cover!
Track #10: Ain’t No Way (Aretha Franklin)
I’d never heard this song before, not from Beth and not from Aretha. And wow! Just, wow! It makes you hurt just listening to it!
Ain’t no way for me to love you,
if you won’t let me.
It ain’t no way for me to give you all you need,
if you won’t let me give all of me.
I know that a woman’s duty is to help and love a man,
and that’s the way it was planned.
Oh, but how can I, how can I, how can I
give you all the things I can,
if you’re tying both of my hands?
On the Beth & Joe website Beth is quoted as saying, “Of all the songs we did, I was most terrified of this one, but I’m such a huge Aretha fan that I really wanted to do it. …When I was 19, a friend gave me a tape of Aretha, and I was listening to it in a rental car in Florida. When “Ain’t No Way” came on, I had to pull over, because I was crying—not because I was sad, but because I couldn’t believe anyone could sing like that.”
If Beth Hart is blown away by a voice, I submit that it’s worth checking out if for no other reason than to learn what sort of talent it takes to impress somebody as talented as Beth.
So, to recap: If you’re a fan of this style of music, you’ll like the album. If you’re a fan of Beth and/or Joe, you’ll like the album. If you’re not, you probably won’t like it. [shrugs]
- I’ve been on the edge of adding John Mayer’s, “I Don’t Trust Myself” as the 13th sexiest song ever recorded for months now. BTW, everything up to the 2:00 min mark on the previous link is just a really kick-ass intro. The song doesn’t really get into the hook until after the 2-min mark.
- Bloodline, which was named as such because their drummer was Erin Davis (son of Miles Davis), their rhythm guitarist was Waylon Krieger (son of Robby Krieger, of “The Doors”), and their bassist and lead vocalist was Berry Oakley, Jr. (son of Berry Oakley, of the Allman Brothers), along with Joe Bonamassa. See? Do this: give Since you’re gone a listen to, and tell me Bonomassa isn’t completely amazing. And then consider that in 1994, Joe would have been 17 years old. Yeah. #stud