For raw emotion, nervous passion and articulated under-statement — no other artist even gets close to BETH HART.
In 2012, singer-songwriter Beth appeared with Jeff Beck at the Kennedy Center Honors to celebrate the life’s work of BUDDY GUY — with a once-in-a-lifetime rendition of Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind. What followed was one of the two standing ovations that evening, led by President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.
In 2014, Beth was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the ‘Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year’ category after releasing Seesaw (with Joe Bonamassa.) And in 2015 Beth released her “Better Than Home” which we described as “blues perfection.”
Next month she releases “Fire on the Floor.” This promises to harness all those accomplishments and build upon them. This was a “very emotional record to write and make...” Beth Hart explained — (producer Michael Stevens was dying of cancer during the mixing of “Better Than Home” — “I wanted the songs for Fire on the Floor to get born real quick.”
Beth’s crack band included Michael Landau (guitar) Waddy Wachtel (guitar) Brian Allen (bass) Rick Morotta (drums) Jim Cox (piano) Dean Parks (acoustic guitar) and Ivan Neville (keys.) And hitmaker/producer Oliver Leiber was recruited.
“We recorded sixteen songs in three days…” Said Beth “But then spent a long time mixing. Oliver is a brutally hard-working person, but he’s also incredibly sensitive and that combination works so great. […] I’m proud of what he did on this record.”
So what’s it like? We had a listen.
The album starts with “Jazz Man” and reminded us that blues-music is a journey — and that the first blues musicians were noted for their skilled interpretations, natural collaborative processes and cunning improvisations.
On this jazzy song the deeply expressive texture of Beth’s vocal range will almost certainly earn comparisons with Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington: Brackish and vibrant one moment, dramatically capricious and juicily cello, the next.
“I’m looking for a Love Gangsta…” announces Beth as she sits at the keyboard for “Love Gangster” whose chord progressions reminded us of George Martin’s Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney and Wings.) This song makes much use of thin and sinuous organ-notes, whilst the palpitating quiver of Beth’s song-voice twitches from a quaver of emotions “Ain’t anybody ever gonna love you...” to darkest intonation “Like I do…”
Soul number “Let’s Get Together” takes influence from funk and is brilliantly catchy. The agile voice is clear as ice and tempting in its delicate nature. But the vocal weight and easy volumes remain, so we are presented with a song that is pretty, bright and youthful. You do not get much tighter than this.
The blues rock number “Fat Man” [co written with Glen Burtnick] has a repetitive verse/chorus structure and is a burping brute of a song with immensely satisfying lyrical patterns. The internal rhyming and jerky beats help this number exceed its acidic nature. You’ll be bopping to this!
Title track ‘Fire On The Floor’ is a sultry moan — poured-out — about missed love and lost time. “Baby Shot Me Down” is a catty and vindictive ditty about eye-for-an-eye payback.
It incorporates Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” textual material without focusing on the enfeebled submissiveness suggested within the 1966 number.
Album closer “No Place Like Home” is the counterimage of “Better Than Home.” It’s about missing home whilst on the road. This has melancholy vocal delivery and slow, piano-based instrumental support that balances the heartfelt tones of nostalgia with undoubted tendernes. This is a song of devotion and loss. It’s exceptionally moving.
“Fire on the Floor” is less brooding — maybe even less soul-stirring — compared to the previous album. But this does not mean it is not keen. The ideas and motifs revealed on this new album are eager and resolute. This is a hymn to life — allowing unrestrained love to fly free.
Without a shadow of a doubt this is the Contemporary Blues album of the year.