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Two incredible talents for the price of one
on 24 March 2014
After two wonderful collaborative studio albums, the powerful, soulful voice of Beth Hart and the blistering guitar talents of Joe Bonamassa come together for a double live album, recorded at the Koninklijk Theater Carre, Amsterdam, over two nights in June 2013. Much of the material here is live interpretations of songs harvested from their two studio albums of powerful jazz, blues and soul covers, with a few additions to keep it fresh. As is Joe and Beth's philosophy, everything you hear on this live album is exactly that, live, with no overdubs or backing tracks, something that, as Joe points out in the liner notes, is becoming increasingly rare for large shows in this day and age. Unlike some live albums, the audience noise is minimal and, although you can certainly tell that it is live by the acoustics and rawness of the sound, the sound quality really is superb.
Joe and Beth work together brilliantly, they have a truly respectful and electrifying partnership, with Beth's phenomenal voice being given the space to take to limelight and Joe complimenting her with just the right amount of licks and fills, only opening up and demonstrating his world class guitar skills (and, boy, are they incredible) when it wouldn't take centre stage away from Ms. Hart. Add to that mix an excellent backing band and a tasteful horn section and you have a live show so good, you envy those who were able to be there. “Them There Eyes” provides a playful, light start, but as soon as the gritty strains of “Sinner's Prayer” strike up, the audience start to get what they've paid for; this is a perfect example of Hart and Bonamassa at their collaborative best. The variety and eclecticism of the set is one of the many strengths of “Live In Amsterdam” and we're treated to song after song of soulful torch songs, chugging rock and spine-tingling blues.
There are plenty of highlights which make this whole album a little bit special. Al Green's “Rhymes” has a fantastic groove to it, the feel-good gospel strains of Etta James' “Something's Got A Hold On Me” would get anybody with a pulse on their feet and Tom Waits' “Chocolate Jesus” is a welcome curve-ball. This live version of Beth Hart's “Baddest Blues”, one of my favourite solo songs of hers, is absolutely scintillating, a thrillingly gorgeous, mighty powerhouse of a song and she delivers the lyrics like her life depends upon it. Bonamassa's virtuoso guitar is the highlight of the passionate, bluesy “Someday After Awhile (You'll Be Sorry) and the solo is nothing short of heavenly. “Strange Fruit” and “I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know” are both utterly phenomenal. Ignoring the forgettable “Amsterdam, Amsterdam” and “Antwerp Jam” which top and tail the album, the set culminates in a soul-meltingly gorgeous rendition of “I'd Rather Go Blind”, during which both Beth and Joe give magnificent individual performances; they certainly know how to end a show.
“Live In Amsterdam” is the sound of two artists with a huge amount of talent in their individual fields performing to the very top of their abilities. Beth Hart is one of the greatest voices of her generation and comparisons with timeless greats such as Janis Joplin aren't unwarranted. Joe Bonamassa is justifiably one of the hottest properties in music today and, although some fans feel as if he has been spreading himself a bit thin with too many releases, this double live album is top quality and well worth adding to anybody's record collection, certainly somebody who is already a fan of Bonamassa. It's not just his technical ability that amazes, it's his talent for interpretation, restraint and ability to play in many styles and genres; he is a real scholar turned master of the art. If you take both of these individual elements together, add a catalogue of blues, jazz and soul classics and put them all together during a couple of inspired sell-out gigs, you get something magical indeed – and that's what “Live In Amsterdam” is... magical.