Sunday, 13 April 2014

Feature - Beth Hart

Published in the Shortlist section of The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday April 4.

Singing For Salvation

Beth Hart talks a lot, and what she has to say, she says quickly. There’s an urgency to her manner, like if she stops moving, things will go back to how they once were, to the hard times of which she’s had more than her share. Indeed, it seems she’s almost hiding behind an enlarged ego – not an arrogance, but a bravado, to keep things from crumbling down.

“Someone like me, I got a lot of ego, because I’ve got a lot of fear,” she admits with a short, almost nervous laugh. Hart has battled many demons over the course of her career, which began with solo debut Immortal in 1996, and gained momentum with the popular hit ‘LA Song (Out Of This Town)’ from her 1999 follow-up, Screamin’ For My Supper.

The pop/jazz-fusion/soul singer battled drug and alcohol addiction in the late ‘90s, the aforementioned demons, but Hart is made of stern stuff. She overcame these difficulties and began to rebuild. She’s not one to rest on her laurels though, it’s little wonder she’s still scared.

Tough times were still to come however, battles still needed to be fought, and it wasn’t really until the release of her fifth record in 2012, Bang Bang Boom Boom, that fans realised she was now coming, artistically, from a happier place. “On old records, I wrote about pain and fear,” she said in an interview recently. “This is the first album where I’ve written about [love], and it’s such a beautiful feeling.”

“When I was about thirty-seven, I had made a record… that was coming from a lot of pain, probably more than any record I’d done before,” she says now, referring to 2010’s My California, on how she turned this corner. “When it was done, I realised I’d hit a wall, and not a wall like, it was so painful, but I was done. I needed something new. And I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was scared.

“So I knew I needed to do something new, and then not long after, Joe Bonamassa approached me about doing a covers record – soul, blues, jazz, this kind of music, and this is one of the great loves of my life.”

The resulting album, Don’t Explain, with guitar whiz Bonamassa, reinvigorated Hart. She says she’d never attempted to write in the blues/jazz vein (as she was then inspired to do for Bang Bang Boom Boom), and that that scared her too, but the whole process lifted her from the bottom, and set her back on the right course – it’s like she was saved by the blues. “Yeah,” she laughs. “And I’ve been a maniac about it ever since, I just keep going, going, going.” So is it easier or harder to sing the blues when you’re happy?

“Oh man, check it out, Buddy Guy said this, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard,” she beams. “He said, ‘You play the blues because you’ve got ‘em, and then when you play ‘em, you lose ‘em’. To me, that is the perfect way to express what the blues is about.” It also seems to be the perfect way to express what Beth Hart is about – she’s had the blues, but it’s her playing, singing and current musical explorations that has them running for the door. Fear be damned.

Samuel J. Fell

Gig: The Basement, April 12 & 13 / Byron Bay Bluesfest, April 17 & 18
Tickets: /
Live: Powerful pop vocal with a rootsy bent
Best Track: ‘LA Song (Out Of This Town)’ from Screamin’ For My Supper

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