Provogue [Release date 13.04.18]
Beth Hart’s ‘Live From New York: Front And Center’ (sic) is her first live album for 13 years, and it’s essentially an update of a career that has taken off like a rocket in the last few years.
She’s consolidated her European following, while also building a platform for her career resurgence in The States.
Both her last two albums ‘Better Than Home’ and ‘Fire On The Floor’ have pushed her career up a level and both albums contribute over half the material here, on a set that reaches all the way back to 1999.
She also reprises three songs from the 2005 ‘Live At The Paradiso’ album, but the Beth Hart of 2018 is far removed from the wild child of the mid-2000′s.
Apart from getting her life on track, this intimate Iridium recording is by an established artist who has found her niche. She’s always had the voice and a handful of memorable songs, but the most satisfying thing about ‘Live From New York: Front And Center’, is the way she crosses over genres effortlessly with some well picked material.
Beth Hart is still probably happiest in a confessional singer-songwriter mode, as evidenced by the fragile, but self-affirmation of ‘Baddest Blues’ and the heartfelt ‘St. Teresa’ which oozes pure song craft. Then there’s the cathartic ‘Tell Her You Belong To Me’, and the beautiful whispered phrasing of the inevitable ‘Leave The Light On’, which fits perfectly with the small club environment.
Given nowhere to hide, Hart focuses on making a meaningful connection with her audience though emotive lyrics, a soulful timbre and superb musicianship.
The album showcases all her facets, albeit the opening ‘Lets Get Together’ feels lightweight compared to what follows.
She redresses the balance with the snap, crackle, fizz and prosody of ‘Jazz Man’, combining scat singing and some neat piano and guitar interplay with Jon Nichols. She wraps her expressive vocals round the song to squeeze out evocative lines such as: “Locomotor pull over, bi polar roller coaster.”
She’s at her most abrasive on the rocking ‘Delicious Surprise’, a song that is surprisingly nearly 20 years old, while her vocals are peerless on ‘Broken & Ugly’, as she rattles off the lyrics like a machine gun.
The sharp rhythmic structure, full vibrato and delicate harmonics of ‘Love Gangster’ are a joy, and she retreats to her favourite place, behind the piano for the reflective ‘As Long As I Have A Song’ on a perfect solo finish.
A well earned encore features the great slide virtuoso Sonny Landreth, who brings both colour and sonic depth to ‘Can’t Let Go’, and she toughens up her vocals on the riff-led ‘For My Friends’, showing that she has stylistic versatility to match her musical chops.
The accompanying DVD draws us in further, as she engages the crowd, gets close and intimate, but then rocks out again, while making full use of the small stage almost as a prop.
The DVD gives you the full club gig experience and the frisson that runs through her veins.
And while there are no real surprises here, ‘Front And Center’ is everything you would want from a live album that neatly updates Beth Hart’s progress, while cleverly suggesting she’s got much more to share. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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