Beth Hart began her musical career, humbly enough, singing on the streets of Los Angeles. Discovered by manager David Wolff, she was plucked from the life of a street musician and found herself suddenly with a record deal from Atlantic Records. Not bad! She soon recorded her debut album, and many of those who heard it agreed on one thing: Beth is a modern day siren, a powerhouse vocalist who can knock you out with one quick jab, a flurry of punches, or a sucker punch right to the gut. She has the kind of voice that makes you stop in your tracks and suddenly well up with emotion. She’s an absolutely unique talent in today’s music world, a master of a plurality of styles, everything from pop, blues, R&B, blues, and rock. What’s amazing is that she’s not only competent at each of these genres, but is a master of them.
But Beth Hart doesn’t just sing. She’s a songwriter to boot, and to those who knew her from the beginning, it came as no surprise when she found herself with a big hit on the Billboard Modern Adult Contemporary and Adult Top 40 charts. “L.A. Song (Out of This Town) was an adult rock radio staple and, and might I add, catchy as moving as hell. It conjures up all the pain and anguish of the modern urban woman who can’t find an escape from her present situation, and when she finally does, her anguish follows right along with her, proving it’s not where you are, but what you do. It was a powerful breakthrough single that really put Beth Hart on the map.
Since that record, she began to move in new directions, really exploring deeply the roots of rock in soul, blues, and jazz influenced music. This would eventually land Beth Hart on Joe Bonamassa’s radar. He had originally seen Beth Hart on a late night television program, and later the two would cross paths on the European touring circuit on a number of occasions, often winding up staying at the same hotels. When Joe saw her perform at the Blue Balls (tee hee) festival in Switzerland, 2010, he was blown away by her voice and began to think seriously about the possibility of a major collaborative project. “She’s Tina Turner, Janis Joplin – the real deal” Joe has said about Beth.
The duo decided to go in the direction of a covers album focusing on soul music but, of course, with major blues influence. Ike and Tina Turner come to mind in terms of historical precedents and inspiration. One had to wonder how the collaboration would work out. Would the two artists try to do too much, to overshadow each other, step on each other’s toes? Would they find enough common artistic ground. Would their styles complement one another or would they clash? As it turned out, the collaboration was brilliant, and the duo released one of the most exciting albums of 2011, Don’t Explain.
Part of the charm, intensity, and creativity of Don’t Explain is from the fact that the album draws largely from a multiplicity of genres – from the smoky jazz of Billie Holiday to the R&B genius of Ray Charles, to the avant-garde blues-pop of singer-songwriter Tom Waits. But what makes it all hang together is a sizzling current of deep blues sensibility. It always retains the soul of the blues, whether on the tortured vocals of “Sinner’s Prayer” the quirky Euro-café vibe of “Chocolate Jesus” or the simultaneously stinging and seductive tones of “Your Heart is As Black as Night.” Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa are perfect foils for each other, and it’s hard to imagine another vocalist-guitarist tandem that could achieve this level of virtuosity and authenticity throughout all of their collaborations together.
In my opinion, Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa have to be up there with the all-time great duos of popular music. Her sultry, impassioned vocals and his mesmerizing, transcendent guitar playing turned out to be a match made in heaven. That they are the best duo in contemporary popular music, to me, goes without saying. The question is, are they one of the greatest of all time? They probably need a few more albums worth of material – and maybe some touring time – to cement themselves in that category with company such as Simon and Garfunkel, for example, and who’s to say whether or not that will happen. But the talent is not in question – they have it in oodles.
Recently, Beth Hart has come somewhat full circle, on her latest album returning to the singer-songwriter roots where she started with “L.A. Song.” The newest L.P., Better Than Home, is not as genre-bending as her last few efforts, but that is far from saying there’s no blues, soul, or even gospel influences on the tracks. After all, you can take the woman out of the blues, but you can’t take the blues out of the woman.
When asked about some of her favorite contemporary artists, she mentions the late Amy Winehouse, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, Aloe Blacc, The Lumineers, and contemporary punky-blues-rock stalwarts The Black Keys. An impressive list of artists for sure, but Beth Hart herself is no less impressive.
So who is Beth Hart? She’s a first class musician, a keeper of the blues flame, a vocal dynamo, and someone who we deeply hope continues to channel her deep connection to the human spirit into spectacular music for years and years to come.
Don’t miss your chance to see Beth Hart on the upcoming Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea II cruise, which promises to be one of the most exhilarating musical events of the year. Click here to book your cabin now!
– Brian R.
What is your favorite song by Beth Hart or Beth and Joe? Let me know in the comments below!
Photo by Christie