Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa, "Black Coffee" (J&R Adventures)
Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa's third studio album of mostly soul and blues sticks to the formula of "if it's not broken, don't fix it," and it serves them well.
Hart, a powerful singer also capable of nuance, is a good fit with Bonamassa, a guitar whiz with a wide range of sounds. They are bonded by their shared intensity, and the well-chosen repertoire, including many lesser-known tunes, gives them 10 opportunities to realize their potential.
Etta James songs are a staple of the duo and here they take on "Damn Your Eyes," from 1989's "Seven Year Itch," one of James' multiple "comeback" albums across the years. R&B diva Lavern Baker gets two nods, "Soul on Fire" and "Saved," while "Lullaby of the Leaves," a ballad with a scorching Bonamassa solo a la Gary Moore, dates back to the early 1930s.
Other songs include "Joy" from Lucinda Williams, Kansas Joe McCoy's "Why Don't You Do Right," and the title track, Ike & Tina Turner via Steve Marriott.
Horn arrangements from Lee Thornburg, tasteful backing vocals and excellent keyboard parts from Reese Wynans, who used to play with Stevie Ray Vaughan, all help "Black Coffee" percolate into a tasty brew.
Album closer "Addicted" is a real gem, originally released in 2007 by Austria's Waldeck. It has elements of a James Bond theme, shades of the tango and, unsuprisingly, a certain European vibe. Hart imbues it with passion, as do the Bonamassa and Wynans solos.
The world is full of little underappreciated treasures. If Hart & Bonamassa and producer Kevin Shirley can keep finding them, there's a bright future in the grooves for more albums like this truly fine effort.