Album review: BETH HART – War In My Mind

Beth Hart - War In My Mind

Provogue [Release date 27.09.19]

The prodigious Beth Hart is back with more tales of self revelation. On the one hand she’s to be commended in as much as having reached a career peak, she’s unafraid to further delve into more emotional self exploration, with the subtext being, how did I get this far with such a turbulent personality?

But you could argue she’s now in danger of thematically repeating herself with an excess of 8 ballads in a 12 track album, except that the mix of emotional weight and sheer songcraft to be found on songs such as ‘Words In The Way’, the uplifting gospel of ‘Let It Grow’ and the sombre tone of ‘Thankful’ hit home hard.

‘War In My Mind’ is essentially a singer-songwriter album that goes back to her early career style, and might disappoint the latter day Beth Hart fans enthralled by the more extrovert ‘Fire On The Floor’.

The surfeit of ballads here demand that extra bit of attention, and as such will please those fans drawn to her previous highs such as ‘L.A. Song (Out Of This Town’), ‘Over You’ and ‘As Long As I Have A Song’ etc.

Her stop-start career path mirrors her bi-polar personality, which she refers too, most convincingly in the ebullient ‘Try A Little Harder’, complete with a dreamy tempo change.

The thematically titled ‘War In My Mind’ seems to be an acceptance of the journey from darkness to the light, by overcoming her demons by sharing her feelings in her songs, while showcasing her startling vibrato and range in the broadest possible terms.

She opens with a mix of musical bluster and uncompromising lyrics on ‘Bad Woman Blues’, which brazenly shouts out, this is who I am, take it or leave it.

But as with her concerts, so with her albums, she’s finds her equilibrium through a succession of checks and balances.  In this case, she juxtaposes the ballsy opener with a quasi-psychological explanation of who she is on the self explanatory titled ‘War In My Mind’, as she metaphorically tells us she is: “A diamond in the coal” on the first of several ballads.

‘Sister Dear’ returns to her previous recollections of her late sister, but she counterweights the sonorous mood with the snappy, Latino tinged ‘Spanish Lullabies’, a song with international airplay potential.

The string laden ‘Rub Me For Luck’ further weaves the introspective thread at the heart of the album, as a gently voiced piano cushions her emotive phrasing, while the synth pulses of the flighty ‘Sugar Shack’ provides something of a cathartic release.

‘War On My Mind’ further confirms Beth Hart as a songwriter capable of penning anthems and ballads, but the album is top heavy with 8 ballads which push the listener towards the substance of her lyrics.  At her best she’s unveils the kind of universal lyrical reflection that draws the listener in, but by the time of ‘Thankful’-   a beautiful track with a familial reflective theme and the closing I Need A Hero’ – the album cries out for one final bit of spark.

On the one hand the album successfully searches for the kind of emotional connection in a song that showcases every aspect of her talent as songsmith, a lyrical confidante and a vocalist who embraces every lyrical nuance. But while producer Rob Cavallo provides the perfect musical support in terms of arrangements and a lightness of touch, he might have whispered in her ear that that the dozen songs are at least 2 uplifting tracks short of being free flowing.

***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra


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