Seesaw reunites force-of-nature blues-rock vocalist Beth Hart and guitar hero Joe Bonamassa for a second album of choice covers from various musical eras. As with their first outing, Don't Explain, the project is in collaboration with producer Kevin Shirley (Joe Bonamassa, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Black Crowes). Each of the three principals suggested and selected tracks for the 11-song set list, which mines soulful classics previously made famous by Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Donnie Hathaway, Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miles, Tina Turner, Slackwax, Melody Gardot, and Nina Simone.
The one-two punch of Hart's powerhouse vocals and Bonamassa s scorching solos both honors and reinvents the original recordings. They are backed by the same world class band that kept the grooves going on Don't Explain: Anton Fig (drums, percussion), Carmine Rojas (bass), Blondie Chaplin (rhythm guitar, backing vocals and percussion), Arlan Schierbaum (organ, piano). This time out, their mighty sound is augmented by a horn section, with Lee Thornburg on trumpets and trombones, and Ron Dziubla on saxophones.
For Hart and Bonamassa, making music together grew out of the friendship and mutual artistic appreciation they developed after crossing paths on the road numerous times, particularly on the festival circuit in Europe. Bonamassa wanted to do a project with her, and came up with the idea for a soul covers record. Shirley, who s produced 12 of Bonamassa's albums, was enthusiastic, and Bonamassa contacted Hart. The chemistry clicked, and Don't Explain was released in 2011, followed now by 2013 s Seesaw in between, both Hart and Bonamassa have toured, recorded solo albums, and reached new career highs.
Fittingly, Seesaw opens with a joyous horn reveille to kick off Them There Eyes, first a hit for Billie Holiday in 1939. Hart's version is flirtatious and sophisticated. The classic American songbook is tapped for other cuts on Seesaw, including the closing number, Strange Fruit, which strikes the album s most serious note, addressing racism, slavery, and lynching. Billie Holiday and Nina Simone both did great recordings, but Nina's is the one that Kevin had me listen to, says Hart. I don't have any personal relationship to slavery in my family, but I can at least sing it from a place of compassion. It was important to me to do this.
On Nutbush City Limits, first released in 1973, Hart wails with an intensity that would make Tina Turner proud. Kevin sprung it on me the last day of recording. I remembered that in What's Love Got To Do With It, Ike is being abusive to Tina, telling her to sing it like a man, to sing it hard. I adore Tina, and this was a big challenge. It ended up feeling incredible to sing, and the band killed it. Equally fierce is Hart's vocal and Bonamassa's blistering solo on Miss Lady, the Buddy Miles song originally produced by Jimi Hendrix. Kevin played it for me when we did Don t Explain, and I didn't want to do it. He suggested it again this time, and I still didn t want to do it. It wasn't that I didn't think it was a great song, it was just so vocally demanding, she says. At the end of a long day, he said, Let's do a quick pass. My throat was so tired, I just screamed it out, and he kept it. It was a nice surprise.