Provogue (CD and DVD) [Release date 24.03.14]
I have to say I’m not a huge Bonamassa or Beth Hart fan – individually or collectively. To my mind Bonamassa is overhyped, and if my painful Liverpool Echo Arena experience is anything to go by, over loud. Capable of brilliance certainly, but original no.
Hart can be equally breathtaking – no more so than on her 2010 offering My California when she strayed perilously close to the mainstream, but sadly she seems to have been diverted from that course by her subsequent pairing with Bonamassa.
On Don’t Explain (2011) and Seesaw (2013) revisiting blues and soul classics made famous by artists including Billie Holiday, Etta James, Tom Waits, Ray Charles, Delaney & Bonnie, Bill Withers, Donnie Hathaway, Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miles, Tina Turner, Melody Gardot, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin.
This CD/DVD/Blu-ray release finds the pair touring Seesaw in the summer of 2013 at Amsterdam’s famed Carre Theatre. Produced by Kevin Shirley on a set he claims “one of the projects I’m most proud of” the duo are backed by the band featured on Bonamassa’s 2009 Ballad Of John Henry album – Anton Fig (drums, percussion), Blondie Chaplin (guitar), and Carmine Rojas (bass), and Arlan Schierbaum (keyboards). And at well less than a tenner for a 2 DVD set that includes 22 songs and whole DVD of bonus and behind the scenes footage you certainly can’t grumble at value for money.
You also get the horn section of Lee Thornburg, Ron Dziubla and Carlos Perez Alfonso, although the suggestion that the set was performed ‘without the safety nets of overdubs’ is frankly a little overstated. After all, who wants to hear a note perfect rendition? It’s the warts that are the life blood of live music and digitalisation has played a big part in strangling that creativity.
But I digress. Back to the DVD and the opening credits are unparalleled – catching the dynamic duo on the streets of Amsterdam and perfectly capturing both the beauty and sleazy underbelly of the city.
And that juxtaposition is reflected on stage as Bonamassa continues to struggle to look cool – looking more like the gangly school nerd in someone else’s suit than a rock star, while Hart has got the rock front of house ‘Madam’ look down to a T now she’s lost the peroxide and looks less like P!nk’s older sister.
If Bonamassa could only bring himself to make eye contact with the audience he might seem less aloof, but love them or loathe them, you’ve got to appreciate the quality of what’s on offer here – the playing and Hart’s vocals, are perfection. As for the sound and camera work – when it (surprisingly often) cuts Joe off at the neck we see more of the fretwork and less of the jaw muscle gurning and pin sharp trouser creases.
In short, if you like Don’t Explain and/or Seesaw then you simply have to buy Live In Amsterdam. If you don’t then it probably isn’t going to convert you. And if you’ve heard neither, but have an appreciation of the R&B/soul review genre, then this is undoubtedly the place to start. ****1/2
Review by Pete Whalley
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