Beth Hart has lived a thousand lives, it seems, from her beginnings as a Star Search stand out, to bottoming out on drugs, to rebounding again in a second-act triumph that included her terrific collaboration last year with Joe Bonamassa.
With the forthcoming Bang Bang Boom Boom, you get a sense not just of where Hart has come from, but where she’s going. Over the course of 11 originals, Hart takes in every element of her talent, but also every element of her story. It is, quite simply, a tour de force.
The album begins, quite simply, in the bottom of a brown bottle, with Hart inhabiting the brave but broken majesty of Billie Holiday. “Baddest Blues” completely lives up to its title, sounding like the blackest part of night. The title track then bursts out like a dirtier, more dangerous kind of Adele song — suggesting more completely the yin and yang of this still-emerging star’s vocal sweep.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Beth Hart’s 2011 collaboration with Joe Bonamassa, ‘Don’t Explain,’ was highlighted by a tough new take on “Well, Well,” the 1972 Delaney and Bonnie classic.]
Hart’s just getting started. “Better Man” taps into the kind of bawdy forcefulness that marked Koko Taylor’s best straightening-out-her-man stuff. Then, just like that, “Caught in the Rain” settles into this ruminative place, but as Hart moves from a harrowing whisper into a passion-filled stoicism, she bridges the two sentiments — ending up somewhere in between throwing the sumbitch out and a tender-hearted understanding of his every-day frailties.
There’s “Swing My Thing Around” and “Spirit of God,” these brawny, gospel-filled jazz numbers; and “With You Every Day” and “Through the Window of My Mind,” these soaring R&B anthems. “There In Your Heart,” a haunting piano-driven number, may be her moment of rawest emotion — but then Hart catches a nasty little groove on “The Ugliest House on the Block,” and all of that hurt is forgotten.
Finally, there’s “Everything Must Change,” a song that doesn’t so much tie up all of the loose ends on Bang Bang Boom Boom, as reiterate all over again the startling range that Hart possesses. It is, at first, just another vehicle for her deeply touching, damaged-goods vibrato, but then Hart elevates her voice — elevates everything — on the line: “Where is all the love?” From there, every part of her story, all of the sad junkie turns and the romantic dead ends and the promises (career and otherwise) that seemed like they might never came true, seem to finally be behind her.
Hart emerges in this song, as she has in life, stronger for her scars — and the track sends Bang Bang Boom Boom (due in Europe today through Mascot) out with a boundless sense of hopefulness. There is little Hart can’t do as a vocalist, and she’s finally getting a chance to prove it.
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