Having crossed paths on the European tour circuit, Americans Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa started a musical love affair that was consummated when Hart provided vocals for No Love on the Street from Bonamassa’s 2011 album, Dust Bowl. This relationship was further developed later that year with the release of the collaborative album, Don’t Explain. With both Hart and Bonamassa having successful and self-sustaining solo careers, with all the touring and recording commitments entailed in that, one might have expected Don’t Explain to represent a simple musical fling for the artists. Yet seven years later the pair release their third collaborative album, Black Coffee.
While Hart and Bonamassa may have their names emblazoned on the album covers, there is a third, silent, partner on these collaborations in the form of producer Kevin “the caveman” Shirley who has helped craft these albums from the ground up. As is expected from such a seasoned trio, Black Coffee is a finely polished and executed affair, which is only made more evident when one is made aware of the fact that the album was recorded over a five day period. From the opening number, a rendition of Edgar Winter’s Give It Everything You Got, through to closing track Addicted, originally by contemporary Austrian outfit Waldeck, Hart and Bonamassa are in fine form, as is their backing band.
Hart’s vocal talents are clear on Etta James’ Damn Your Eyes, and the guitar solo on Ella Fitzgerald’s Lullaby of the Leaves demonstrates Bonamassa’s excellent sense of feel. A good groove is established on Why Don’t You Do It Right? while Lucinda William’s Joy is instilled with an irresistible head-bobbing vibe. The titular Black Coffee is performed well enough, but if the listener is keen on hearing a slightly updated take on this song then they may wish to listen to the Rival Sons version from 2016’s Hollow Bones.
Black Coffee is nothing if not a consistent album, but this consistency feels as though it comes at the cost of character, and the album comes across a bit flat overall. Aficionados of blues and soul may find much in the album to praise or pillory, but a casual listener may find the experience of the album to be slightly underwhelming. While the five days it took to record the album slightly imbue it with a live vibe, it still feels as though it would be far more rewarding to hear a live performance of Hart and Bonamassa tackling these songs.