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Black Coffee

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Artist: Beth Hart
Artist: Joe Bonamassa

Review

Beth Hart first teamed up with guitarist Joe Bonamassa in 2011 and the partnership proved to be mutually beneficial. Hart gave the rock-edged Bonamassa some blues bona fides while the guitarist brought the vocalist to a wider audience. Plus, it was evident from their two studio albums and live set that the two had an easy chemistry: They shared a similar vernacular in Chicago blues and classic soul. The pair rely on that effortless interplay on Black Coffee, their third studio collaboration. Working with producer Kevin Shirley -- a veteran of Black Crowes records who has been in the Bonamassa orbit since 2006 -- the pair eschew straight traditionalism for a clean, colorful, retro vibe. Sometimes, the duo make choices that are perhaps a little too obvious -- the covers of LaVern Baker's "Saved" and Howlin' Wolf's "Sittin' on Top of the World" are a bit on the nose -- but they also know how to kick up the intensity on these chestnuts while avoiding sounding like they're on steroids. Still, the highlights of Black Coffee are the originals and lesser-known songs, as they reveal that there is plenty of common ground between Hart's testifying and Bonamassa's shredding. Interestingly, that common ground feels formal in a way their individual solo albums don't -- respectively, Hart will delve into the personal spins on roots music while Bonamassa will indulge in blues myths -- but that's the appeal: They're working on keeping the flame burning, and Black Coffee may be their most effective testament in that effort to date. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine