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"Bang Bang Boom Boom" by Beth Hart
“Like Jeff Buckley at his most transcendent, and sounding like Janis Joplin reincarnated with Stevie Nicks’s high-speed vibrato, Hart turned the act of singing into an out-of-body experience, something both intensely physical and tangibly metaphysical.” – Slant Magazine
The story of Beth Hart is one of extreme highs and extreme lows, and there are two particular factors that illustrate this. First, her voice: when she sings, clocks stop, hearts dance, and neck-hair tingles, it’s that compelling. The second is her rollercoaster story: in the late 90s, she was on the cusp of a promising music career, signed to a major U.S. label, national television bookings, hit singles, and great press, but her career careened off the tracks at its peak due to her drug and alcohol addiction. Beth Hart’s story is one of incredible opportunity, heartbreaking loss, and now, with her recent show-stopping Kennedy Center Honors performance with Jeff Beck that honored blues great Buddy Guy, and the April 2, 2013 North American release of Bang Bang Boom Boom (Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group), redemption.
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When she was just four years old, Beth realized that music was her destiny. “There was this commercial for pianos on TV,” she recalls, “and the music was Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” which was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. So in the middle of the night, I got up and played part of that song on the piano. My mother, father and all the other kids came out and gave me so much love and attention, the ham in me knew right away that this was what I wanted to do. I just knew…
“I never thought I’d be a singer,” she continues. “I thought I’d be a classical pianist or cellist, go to Juilliard. When I did start singing, I took opera lessons and my teacher was wonderful, but one day she said, ‘Beth, I don’t think classical is for you, because you like to do your own thing with the music.’ And she was right.”
Beth’s formative musical tastes were eclectic, taking in jazz, rock, blues, gospel and grunge. “Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald: I’m fascinated by them,” she says, “but then when I heard Robert Plant and Chris Cornell, I couldn’t get over their power. But then, Rickie Lee Jones and James Taylor, their voices were so lovely and soft…”
A national win on “Star Search,” a forerunner to “American Idol” and “The Voice,” gigging around L.A. and a lot of pounding the pavement by her manager, eventually led to Jason Flom and David Foster who jointly signed her to Lava/143/Atlantic Records. Beth worked with top producers on 1996’s Immortal, and scored international hits with cuts like “Am I The One,” but today, she contends it was on 1999’s Screamin’ For My Supper– home to the smash-hit “LA Song (Out Of This Town)” – that she found her voice. “If I could have my way,” she says, “I’d love it if people bought my new album and Screamin’ For My Supper simultaneously, because I think that record is where I became a real writer.”
But again, pressure clipped her wings. A heady cocktail of drugs and Beth’s unmedicated bipolar disorder ensured that her Atlantic deal went sour, and it took the intervention of road manager Scott Guetzkow to pull her back from the brink. “I went into five different hospitals that year, not including rehabs,” she says. “It was so bad that I remember talking to my psychologist and he said, ‘I don’t think you can handle being in this business…’”
Then came redemption. Around the turn of the millennium, Beth ditched her “drug of choice” (Klonopin), drove to Las Vegas, married Guetzkow and, sober and drug-free, began to craft a comeback. In 2003, she shot back with third album, Leave The Light On (Billboard: “One of the year’s most affecting albums), while in 2005, her growing popularity in the UK and Europe was clinched with the Live At Paradiso release from Amsterdam. In 2007, 37 Days gave Beth the European hit “Good As It Gets,” and in 2010, My California found her singing with new sensitivity about deeply personal themes, in particular the loss of her beloved sister, Sharon, on “Sister Heroine.”
Beth toured extensively in the UK and Europe, playing bigger and bigger venues each time, and the buzz continued to mushroom. That voice had caught some famous ears, and to date, Beth counts some of rock’s most iconic guitarists amongst her collaborators. Her earliest A-list hook-up was alongside British veteran Jeff Beck (“I didn’t know a guitar could sound that way”), while she enjoyed fizzing chemistry with ex-Guns N’ Roses legend Slash, who guested on “Sister Heroine” and co-wrote “Mother Maria” for the Download To Donate For Haiti charity album.
But it was a chance meeting with the blues star Joe Bonamassa in a hotel lobby that changed her trajectory, resulting in an invitation to sing on the Kevin Shirley-produced soul-rock covers album that became 2011’s Don’t Explain.
Beth and Kevin Shirley instantly clicked, and with cuts like “I’ll Take Care Of You” hijacking BBC Radio 2’s playlists, and the UK’s Classic Rock magazine including the release in its Top Albums of 2011, Don’t Explain proved to be Hart’s tipping-point and the perfect springboard for Bang Bang Boom Boom. With 11 original songs recorded live by Kevin Shirley, this new collection gives Beth’s eclectic influences free rein, spinning from the brassy gospel of “Spirit Of God,” to the sparse “Thru The Window Of My Mind,” with her first-ever piano solo on “Swing My Thing Back Around,” and an impossibly tender vocal on the Billie Holiday-flavored “Baddest Blues.”
And then came Jeff Beck’s invitation for Beth to join him on the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors to pay tribute to blues legend Buddy Guy, performing the Etta James classic “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Viewers may have tuned in to see Led Zeppelin or David Letterman being honored, but, as the Baltimore Sun wrote, “Everyone was on their feet when [Beck and Hart’s] soul-searing performance ended.” What a reintroduction to America.
Bang Bang Boom Boom is the album where Beth is finally able to admit she might actually be happy. “Often on old records, I wrote about pain and fear,” she says. “I didn’t write so much about love. I always felt like I didn’t understand it or wasn’t worthy. This is the first album where I have, and it’s such a beautiful feeling. I feel like I’ve gotten to fit into a new pair of shoes, y’know, and I can walk a different walk. Every album is special to me. But with this one, there’s a real specialness about it, because I’m at a different age and in a new head-space.”