When people hear the name “Bette Davis,” the iconic American actress comes immediately to mind. But there is also Betty with a “y”. Born Betty Mabry, she married legendary trumpeter Miles Davis in the late ‘60s. She became one of the sassiest, funkiest female vocalists of the era. ”Ooh Yea! – The Betty Davis Songbook” is another Joe Bonamassa brainchild of legendary producer Kevin Shirley (Journey, Rush,) This time, he pairs the blues rock titan with powerhouse vocalist Mahalia Barnes. The result is a tribute album that is short on subtlety and long on kick ass.
Both artists have gained notoriety in the digital age, with Bonamassa gaining fame thanks to PBS specials and a social media firestorm. Barnes appeared on “The Voice,” where she established herself as a cross genre singer to be reckoned with. Most heavily influenced by soul, blues and rock, she showcases them all across the 40 minute span while Bonamassa deftly picks his way through a number of different styles. He cranks the Les Paul up to 11 on the full throttle opener, “If I‘m In Luck, I Think I might Get Picked Up.” From there to the slap bass and syncopated snare on “Your Mama Wants You Back,” the core influences are apparent. Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder are ever present.
The 70s funk is resurrected on the title track, where electric piano and wah wah pedal bring the theme from “Shaft” immediately to mind. Bonamassa’s last female collaboration was a furious effort with Beth Hart on the Grammy nominated best blues album“Seesaw.” His bone crushing Gibson typically dominates, but here it feels more like a supporting role as he and Shirley allow Barnes to shine out front. It is a killer one two knockout combination.
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