Joe Bonamassa Backs Beth Hart on Her Kevin Shirley Produced Album
Produced by Kevin Shirley (Joe Bonamassa, Led Zeppelin, Black Crowes), the album features Hart's interpretations of ten songs, with Bonamassa on guitar and his ace band filling out the tracks.
Don't Explain is scheduled for U.S. release on September 27 on J&R Adventures, the independent label founded by Bonamassa and his longtime manager and business partner, Roy Weisman. It will be released in Europe via Mascot Records on September 26.
Fans will be able to get their first taste of the album on August 12 with the release of a free download. Sign up to hear it first at http://www.hartandbonamassa.com/. The site also features a five minute video clip of Beth and Joe discussing the new album.
"Beth's got a pretty heady voice, very reminiscent of Janis Joplin," says Shirley, who has produced Bonamassa's last five albums. "She's also got a lot of Etta James in her, but hadn't really accessed it. With this material, there is a gentleness to the way she delivers the most heartfelt tunes that she hasn't shown before. It's very cool, she's done a fantastic job."
Bonamassa and Hart had crossed paths on the road numerous times, and played many of the same festivals in Europe. In early 2010, he caught a show of hers in London—"It was killer," says Bonamassa—and suggested they do a project together sometime. Don't Explain took shape that summer while Bonamassa was recording his latest album, Dust Bowl, in Santorini, Greece. "I was up late one night, I couldn't sleep. I was playing songs on my iPod from the reissue of Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, which included all the opening acts from that Stones show," he recalls. "As soon as the Ike & Tina Turner tracks came on, I just said out loud, 'Beth Hart.' I emailed Kevin, saying, 'Let's do a soul covers record with Beth,' and he replied back, 'Actually, that's a great idea.'"
Hart agreed, though she says, "When I first got the call from Joe about doing a soul record with me, I figured I'd be the background vocalist. He said, 'No, you're singing lead.'" She collaborated with Bonamassa and Shirley on choosing songs, and the final set list features numbers made famous by artists including Billie Holiday (the title track, "Don't Explain"), Aretha Franklin ("Ain't No Way"), Bill Withers ("For My Friend"), Ray Charles ("Sinner's Prayer"), Delaney & Bonnie ("Well, Well," featuring a vocal duet with Bonamassa), Tom Waits ("Chocolate Jesus"), Etta James ("I'd Rather Go Blind" and "Something's Got A Hold On Me")—a personal favorite of Hart's—and others.
To accommodate everyone's tight schedules, Don't Explain was recorded in four days over two weekends in January 2011 at Village Recorders in Los Angeles (and later mixed by Shirley at The Cave in Malibu). Hart prepared by listening to the originals over and over, to fully learn the material and absorb its very essence—and she was delighted by quickly capturing the raw energy and immediacy she felt in the studio. "With the level of players there, including Joe of course, I really had to rise to the occasion," she says. "I couldn't do my best, I had to do better. That kind of focus was humbling, and it was great. We had such a good time making the record."
To back Hart up, Bonamassa assembled the band that was heard on his #1 Blues album The Ballad of John Henry (2009): Anton Fig (drums, percussion), Blondie Chaplin (guitar), and Carmine Rojas (bass), as well as Arlan Scheirbaum (keyboards). The sound evolved into a simmering mix of soul, jazz, rock, and blues, with Hart's vocals confidently in the pocket of each and every groove. "Beth has been an absolute hidden gem," says Bonamassa. "She has a beautiful voice. She's a fantastic singer, a lovely person." Don't Explain explains it all.
Sinner's Prayer 4:28