Top positive review
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The reason a Seesaw was made for two people...
on 1 June 2013
...is that when you go down, there will always be someone to lift you up again.
Seesaw dips further into the world of traditional vocal jazz with slower tempos and more restrained string arrangements than Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa's previous collaboration Don't Explain, which had more country and soul influences. Ms Hart's performance is smoother too. Anyone expecting the raw rasping vocals that are the trademark of her blues output might be disappointed. I emphasise might. Her performance suits the material, and the difference between a good singer with an interesting voice and a great singer is that they can choose exactly how much of a technique they want to use in a given performance. Her love for the material shines on this record with songs like Them There Eyes and Seesaw sounding sweet and bright, while Close To My Fire and If I Tell You I Love You have a rich, smooth late-night-in-a-smokey-jazz-club quality to them. And if you listen to the way she uses a sharp sustained notes in the final verses of Strange Fruit to reenforce the brooding sadness of the song, you will discover what a clean, powerful singer she can be.
Joe Bonamassa too is showing what a craftsman he is. He long ago dispensed with need to wow people with guitar histrionics and instead delivers tight guitar breaks and interesting rhythm and accompanying parts that bolster the vocal performance. It's fascinating to see him experimenting with funk and acoustic blues on his last few records and now traditional Jazz on this. (I have reached the point where I buy his new releases on spec, and I've yet to be disappointed.) That's not to say that there aren't good solos on this album though. The one on I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know is impassioned blues at it's best, as is the more restrained one emerges from the guitar atmospherics at the close of Strange Fruit. But on this record you are more likely to notice the snap of his opening riffs on Nutbush City Limit, and his rhythm work on Can't Let Go, where slide guitar drives the song throughout. The adjectives usually applied to slide guitar like `blistering,' or `howling' don't fit here. It's a warm, rich, vocal sound, that is as smooth as velvet.
I guess that sums up the album. Its warm, smooth and comfortable to listen to, with surprising depth when you start digging into it. If you enjoyed Warren Haynes' Man In Motion album, you will like this. If you long for a gritty blues work out like Sloe Gin or Leave the Light On, you might wonder where the fire went. Well it's banked up, low but alive under the cinders, suffusing the album with a warm glow.
With Seesaw, I went for the vinyl version, and the artwork in the style of older Jazz album covers is pretty good. A nicely illustrated inner sleeve has notes from Beth Hart about some of the songs. The 180g pressing is clean and very quiet (important on tracks like Strange Fruit), but it seems a little tight round the centre post of my turntable. Like other Provogue records it's priced so you can buy this with a download from your supplier of choice, which on balance might be better than asking for more and including a download code inside. There are so many choices of how to get your music now it's hard to find a package that suits every listener. I still prefer a download paired with vinyl, but a spotify subscription probably fills that need for a lot of people.
If you are fan of either artist, this album is worth a look, as it's suitably different from their solo output. But if you are interested in superb vocal jazz and blues, thats when it becomes an essential purchase.