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Beth Hart - Better Than Home (Review)

Beth Hart, Better Than Home

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

SOME artists choose to sing the blues and some artists find that they have to live them as well – the latter couldn’t be more fitting for Beth Hart.

A prodigious talent in her childhood, she’s been through more than most from FBI raids to her father going to jail; her sister dying of complications from AIDS, being expelled from school and then running away from home to Brooklyn, aged 15, in order to fulfil her dream of performing live.

Scouts picked her up and she won $100k on Star Search, beating a young Beyonce to claim the prize. Her break-through single LA Song (Out of this Town) went on to become a hit, reaching No.6 in the US.

But pressure and a “dark period” then hit, with drink, drugs and an eating disorder to combat – but performances on the Jay Leno and David Letterman shows saw her public profile grow.

She spent the following years either on tour or in and out of rehab until, in 2000, she confessed to being “nuts and struggling” and was diagnosed as Bipolar. Doctors told her “you can’t handle this life in the music industry”… but Beth was determined to prove otherwise.

And now the Grammy nominated singer-songwriter releases her seventh album, Better Than Home, a collection of songs being hailed as her most intimate yet… tracks that go to the depth of her soul, revealing terrible pain in her past, family issues and personal demons as well as her coming to grips with them and using that knowledge to find the real beauty in her life.

The ensuing record isn’t always an easy listen because of the fact it’s so raw and honest (most notably the title track Better Than Home or the tender St Teresa, in which she seems to be seeking a mother figure).

It’s also more ballad driven than this guitar go-to girl would normally be associated with.

But if that’s a weakness, then there are still moments here in which Hart gets to shine. And it’s usually when she picks up the pace and unlocks those guitar strings, as opposed to sticking to anything piano-based.

Hence, Trouble, with its gutsy riffs and sharp stabs of brass, is a rollicking blues rocker that finds Hart in feisty vocal form too, declaring “I just want one day in the sun, hanging out having fun/I didn’t come to make trouble”. It’s the sound of the Deep South mixed with some Northern Soul and it works a treat.

Likewise, The Mood That I’m In has a lively blues-soul sound that gives the LP some much needed uplift by the time it arrives.

And mid-tempo album opener Might As Well Smile is a slice of classic soul that finds Beth determining to put a brave face on things, no matter how bad things get. It bears comparison with the likes of Amy Winehouse and even classic Tina Turner at times, especially with the gospel backing. The only criticism is that this type of song has become a little too common nowadays and is screaming out for a fresh perspective.

Elsewhere, Better Than Home prefers to keep things low-key, brooding and quite often sombre. And that, too, can sometimes become stifling, no matter how honest.

Lyrically, though, there are moments to savour. The aforementioned St. Teresa, for instance, is an anthem with a unique point-of-view, narrated by a man in prison, that was inspired by the film, Dead Man Walking (starring Sean Penn).

While Tell ‘Em You Belong To Me is one of the most personal songs on the album, chronicling Beth’s relationship with her father and how another woman came between them. Similarly, the limited edition bonus track Mama This One’s For You reveals that she’s not afraid to tell her mother how much she loves her, either, and is described by Hart as the most important song on the whole LP.

So, if you’re in the mood for some intimacy with Hart and really want to find out more about what makes her tick, then this album’s for you. It’s notable for its honesty, even though it sometimes feels overdone (on tracks like Tell ‘Em To Hold On and even Better Than Home).

As you may be able to discern, I was slightly torn over the merits of this one. It sometimes feels as troubled as the songs that inspired it, no matter how accomplished instrumentally and vocally it consistently is.

Download picks: Trouble, The Mood That I’m In, Tell Her You Belong To Me, Mechanical Heart

Track listing:

  1. Might As Well Smile
  2. Tell ‘Em To Hold On
  3. Tell Her You Belong To Me
  4. Trouble
  5. Better Than Home
  6. St. Teresa
  7. We’re Still Living In The City
  8. The Mood That I’m In
  9. Mechanical Heart
  10. As Long As I Have A Song
  11. Mama This One’s For You (Bonus Track)