Okay Beth, you got me. I surrender. Ain’t no denying that War In My Mind is a winner.
Y’see, since I’ve been doing this malarkey over the last few years, I’ve largely resisted Beth Hart's charms. Never been entirely convinced. Oh, there’s been some stuff I’ve liked, particularly on Fire On The Floor. But I’ve found the persistent banging on about her personal demons tiresome at times. And more significantly, I’ve often found her vocal style irritating – too much of that vibrato, and letting her power reach foghorn proportions. Though I daresay that at times her singing hasn’t gone down either of those roads, but I’ve been bracing myself for one or the other to kick in.
|"You talking' to me? Well, there ain't nobody else here."|
Well, maybe Beth has learned to control these tendencies better, or maybe I’ve just become more attuned to her style. Either way, there’s no war going on in my mind – this album is the best thing I’ve heard from her yet.
And it’s a singular affair too, because while a few tracks offer shifts in tone, the album leans primarily on Hart’s piano and vocals, delivering ballads of various hues. ‘War In My Mind’ itself, the second track in, is not only typical, it may be the best thing here – though it does have some competition. It rests on the kind of classical piano motif you might find Muse deploying, but gives their pomp and circumstance a body swerve in favour of something dark and reflective – but not negative – played out via an excellent melody delivered with gripping dynamics.
And if that’s top dollar stuff, so is the closing ‘I Need A Hero’, on which a rippling piano line ebbs and flows, mirrored by the vocal melody, and if it’s a bit Steinman-esque then it’s more in the vein of ‘I Would Do Anything For You’ than ‘Holding Out For A Hero’, but self-effacing and personal rather than theatrical, and with a striking ending.
Meanwhile ‘Sister Dear’ is tender and dreamy, underpinning Hart’s vocal, and some great melodic moments, with little more than a rolling piano line and cello, and ‘Let It Grow’ is indeed a song that swells assertively before a dying ending, with some typically impressive backing vocal arrangements along the way as Hart sings about being “Just a penny in the stream, working on a dream”.
If all this sounds very deep, the album is set on its way by the funky R’n’B and stop-time riff of ‘Bad Woman Blues’, with its big, glossy sound featuring some real heavy bass and piano chords echoing Toto’s ‘Hold The Line’, and Hart declaring that “Got the lips, Got the legs, I was born to drive a man insane” like a veritable fatal attraction. ‘Spanish Lullabies’ brings further variety with a controlled Latin vibe over a salsified rhythm, and a Hispanic-style classical guitar solo, and ‘Sugar Shack’ makes use of a throbbing motorik synth and stomping beat in pursuit of some dance floor action.
But there’s also a haunted European vibe at work at times, as on ‘Rub Me For Luck’ (really, Beth?), which edges out of the shadows like Radiohead without electric instrumentation, with Hart singing about “waves of ee-mo-shunn” before surging into a Bond-theme chorus courtesy of a soaring melody and dramatic piano riff. ‘Woman Down’ is one of the less remarkable outings in evidence, but Hart still manages to make like Edith Piaf as she delivers the bitter lyric.
Who knows, maybe credit is due to producer Rob Cavallo for bringing out the best in Beth Hart on this record. But however all the pieces have fallen into place, War In My Mind is a collection of fine songs from a highly individual artist, that justifies her reputation as something special. To quote ‘Bad Woman Blues’, Beth Hart just stuck the cherry on the chocolate cake.
War In my Mind is released by Provogue Records on 27 September.
Beth Hart is touring Europe in November/December, and Britain and Ireland in January/February. Check tour dates here.