Beth Hart. Two simple one-syllable words that together make my heart skip a beat. I’ve been a fan of hers for a few years now and I find her voice to be intoxicating and exhilarating at the same time. We’ve featured some of her solo work, and several of her collaborations with Joe Bonamassa on Time For The Blues, and every time we play her, we get requests for more.
Okay, many of those requests are from me, but we get several from our listeners. She is one of those performers who, after you see or hear them for the first time, you’re enthralled by their work going forward. If you don’t believe me, check out any of her previous albums, or better yet, get a copy of her latest Provogue release, Fire On The Floor.
Hart doesn’t strictly sing the blues, but every song she sings is infused with the blues spirit. Just as rock and roll was an instrument of anger and frustration, the blues are a way of dealing with pain, and the two often go hand in hand.
Some performers know how to mix the two and bring out righteous anger to go with the pain of living in a modern world. Hart is the kind of performer who can take just about any song and transform it through the medium of her voice, into a work of the highest form of art.
Not only does Hart provide lead and background vocals, but she also plays piano on two numbers, and she wrote or co-wrote all of the 13 songs on the album. She is joined by Michael Landau, Waddy Wachtel, and Dean Parks on guitars; Brian Allen on bass; Rick Marotta on drums; Jim Cox on piano and Wurlitzer; Ivan Neville on Hammond B3, Vox Continental organ, and even piano for one song; and Oliver Leiber on electric, acoustic, and baritone guitars as well as percussion and drums for two songs. Guests include Paul Peterson on bass; Eric Leeds on tenor and baritone sax; and Brad Shermock on trumpet.
There’s a swinging jazz feel for the opening song, appropriately entitled Jazz Man. Already you can tell that Hart is fueled by experimentation and the keyboards carry the music, while her voice is pure nightclub sexy. This is the jazz blues of Harlem, the kind of music that made America jump and swing, and hold on to a partner in the wee hours of the morning.
She holds onto that jazz feel, but with a dark side on Love Gangster. This song is killer, and her voice has an edge that’s sharper than a straight razor, then descends into a kittenish purr. There’s danger in this song – the kind that would be perfectly at home in a film noir. Wild song.
Next up is an unusual number, Coca Cola. It’s a lighthearted number with simple orchestration that is carried by her ethereal vocals. The song shifts gears here and there, ramping up then slowing down. I’m fascinated by her approach and the way she blends with the guitars. Kind of a throwback to the late 1960’s psychedelic era.
Hart adds some horns to the spirited Let’s Get Together. It has a touch of the islands in the rhythm and sound, and gives the album a different flavor altogether. It’s interesting to listen to her play with the sound, and her voice is up to the task. It’s a fun song that will get some airplay on the alt stations more so than the blues or rock stations. Heck, if I had a convertible, I would crank this one up while tooling down the highway to my favorite beach spot.
She gets back in blues territory for Love Is A Lie, with a driving background and vocals that reach deep into her soul to bring forth every emotion. You can hear the tremble in her voice as she delivers this anthem. It’s a strong and powerful song that will definitely be featured on Time For The Blues shortly.
When I saw the title, Fat Man, I sort of cringed a little. But when you listen to the song, she plays with the language in a very cool scat jazz mode. The lyrics are very cool and the music moves around changing tempos and emphasis. Very cool song and you really don’t hear much like it.
The title track, Fire On The Floor, is a slow languid number that gets under your skin quickly. I love the tempo and her approach. It starts out quietly, forcing you to listen closer and the effect is to bring you into her world. I really like this number a lot, it just might be my favorite on the album and I can’t wait to share it with our audience.
Hart plays a beautiful piano on Woman You’ve Been Dreaming Of, a number of sadness and pain that’s delivered by an amazing chanteuse. When I spoke of her approach in Jazz Man, this is a direct line from that song. Just a singer, baring her soul to an audience in a darkened room. Finding those common painful experiences that we all want to forget, but know we never can. This is a lovely song.
What follows is a funky tune, Baby Shot Me Down, that is an dark song of a woman facing her ex-lover. The subject matter is pure blues, and her approach pulls from several other genres, and the song rocks. Listen for the jazz piano as it plays with her vocals.
Hart slows things down for Good Day To Cry, with its gospel keyboards and her whispered opening. She quickly raises her intensity as if she is trying to reach heaven just with her heart and voice. It’s an interesting follow up from
You can feel the exhaustion in her voice at the beginning of Picture In A Frame. It’s another quiet number of loss and longing. She’s found songs that express her world, and hasn’t gone the route of pure commercialism. She’s not just a singer, she’s an artist painting pictures with her words and voice. She takes these raw sounds and transforms them into something more beautiful. Hart is difficult for the mainstream to pigeonhole. Don’t worry about labels, just wrap yourself in her voice and let the world melt away.
Hart plays more piano on No Place Like Home, a lovely sentimental tune, and one that anybody who has ever spent a great deal of time on the road can identify with. We all need that place where we can go to in order to find sanctuary. Gorgeous number.
For a bonus track, Hart is joined by Rock God Jeff Beck on Tell Her You Belong To Me. Her voice is a whisper that holds the prospect of doing what it takes to hold on to her man. This is the stuff of a great blues song, and Beck’s presence just adds to that scenario. A great bonus, and a great way to end this album.
Yeah, I kind of like her. She’s currently out on tour now in support of Fire On The Floor, and I’m still kicking myself for missing her performance in Baltimore. Anita Schlank, the official Live Music Correspondent for Time For The Blues caught the show, and pretty much hasn’t stopped raving about it. And if Anita ever tells you something is good, you better take it to the bank.
You don’t want to miss this transcendent performer. Take a few minutes and check out her website http://www.bethhart.com/ for all of her music and her travels.