|THE GLORY OF GUTS: When I met with Beth Hart before a recent performance at Town
Hall in Manhattan, there were no invitations to fancy back quarters or quaint,
atmospheric dressing rooms nor scores of label execs buzzing about the artist to
the point of distraction.
Instead, Hart, a raw, soul-on-her -sleeve embodiment of vulnerability, steps
outside of the venue alone, preferring to stand a spell on the sidewalk. First,
she offers a tight hug.
"I'm so glad you're here. Thank you for coming," she says in a way
that expels any doubt of sincerity. Then she shows off her first tattoo, a
butterfly, placed on her shoulder. Within minutes, you feel you're catching up
with a friend you've known all your life.
Hart is the epitome of the natural woman, bawdy and funny, chatty and
free-wheeling with her choice of spiced language. But that's white bread
compared to her on stage presence, where the tall, gaunt singer/songwriter
struts and squalls out songs with the vim of Mick Jagger.
At other times, she takes her place at the piano or center stage, where she sits
without a shred of pretense, legs straddled over the sides of a chair, conjuring
a voice so delicate and pained, you wonder if she's going to cry - or if you
It's no wonder then that finding acceptance onstage is perceived as a gracious
gift for Hart.
"When I'm up there and the crowd is right there with me, it's like being
breast-fed by my mother; like feeling so much love from the sexiest, most
honest, kindest man; like the best drugs in the world; like God putting his hand
on your back and loving you. It is the best," she says.
Hart's bloodletting first single, "L.A. Song," is an invitation to
that more vulnerable side. The piano-based ballad tells of confronting pain and
heartache at home, then leaving town to find peace and realizing that you can't
leave demons by your bedside table. And it's about finally resolving to confront
those demons, then returning home with newfound strength.
"Beth Hart is one of the few artists that manages to convey her convictions
and emotion through her music. She's just raw and pure," says Scott
Shannon, PD/morning show co-host at adult top 40 WPLJ New York, who recently
hosted Hart for an on-air interview and live performance.
"We've been doing live performances on WPLJ for eight years now, and I can
remember only a handful of artists who have gotten the kind of reaction she did
from listeners. And she's the only unknown artist to get that kind of
response," he says. "I can't imagine her going long without scoring a
hit and becoming a star."
Hart wrote the autobiographical "L.A. Song" - hauntingly beautiful and
expressive of her own personal journey - after recording her first album,
"Immortal," on 143/Lava/Atlantic five years ago, then going on the
road with her longtime band - and witnessing everything fall apart.
"We came back from the tour, and the whole thing was horrible," says
the 27-year-old Hart. "We fought, the record bombed, and we stopped being
friends on the road. I was embarrassed in front of my friends and family, who
had said, 'It's going to happen.' I felt ashamed and didn't think I deserved
another shot with another record. I thought, 'I gotta get out of this place.'
"So I went to Alabama and hung with a group of musicians," she
continues. "We partied a lot and tried to conquer our demons, and I wrote.
I found a little bit of self-respect and self-love. And that's when I came
Despite its situational inspiration, there is, of course, universality in
"L.A. Song" for all who are battling forces beyond their control.
"I hope people find some hope in it, that they realize they're not the only
ones who feel this way," Hart says. "I know what it's like to feel
alone and isolated, and it's one of worst feelings in the world. There are so
many of us in this world and yet so many lonely people. Sometimes you hear a
song that means something, see a painting or a movie, taste a food, anything.
You're like, 'Whoa, this tastes really good,' and the guy next to you says,
'Yeah, me too. 'It's that feeling of not being the only one."
Notes Ron Shapiro, executive VP/GM of Atlantic Records, "'L.A. Song' is a
brilliantly crafted pop song, it's an autobiographical journey, it's a
psychological release, it's a cultural lesson, it's personal heroism. Any song
that does all that deserves Atlantic Records to die for it."
Other cuts on Hart's new album, "Screamin' For My Supper," like
"Get Your Shit Together," written with Glenn Burtnik and spouted with
the whiskey-soaked passion of a woman still at work on "her shit,"
show a more strident side of the artist: "You've got places to go/You've
got people to know/You got plans to get your shit together/Did you take it too
far/Did you forget who you are/ Did you stash your soul into the closet
Again, the song is self-inspired: "I kept saying things like, 'I'm never
going to do that,' and then I would," she says. "I kept falling down
and falling down again and realized I've got to learn the hard way. You learn to
tell the truth because that's all you've got."
Hart says that the track leans to her album's central themes of enlightenment
"I wasn't making an album for people to hear. I was more making an album to
heal and talk about family, friends, God, the demons, my addictions, things that
make me the happiest and things that make me the saddest. This was the first
time in my life where I was willing to say just what I think and not worry so
much about how people will judge me. At that point, I had nothing to lose, so
why not tell the truth?" she says.
"When I walked in the room, it was obvious that we had something different
in Hart," WPLJ's Shannon attests. "She was so genuine ' you just knew
she was going to be someone special."
"There's so much passion in her music," adds Sonja Jackson, music
director of modern adult WZZP Sacramento, Calif. "My philosophy is that a
good record makes me want to kill someone or fuck someone. When I heard this
one, it made me want to you know what. Her song is a story, it relates to me,
and I knew it would relate to my female audience. She sounds like she's had a
hard life, like she's got stories and lived to tell them."
Hart is currently touring as the warm-up for labelmate Edwin McCain throughout
the U.S. and in spots across Europe. Beginning Oct. 19, she will headline the
newly launched Hard Rock Cafe tour, visiting U.S. cities where the chain has
franchises, including Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Boston, and Chicago.
Proceeds go to VH1's Save the Music.
It's certainly a step ahead of Hart's early days as a street performer with her
former band. And yet, Hart views the future as a constant set of steps on the
road to truth, self-love, and recovery.
Asked where she regards her career on a scale of one to 10, she responds,
"I'm kind of feeling like a three, because to me, the real road to success
is when you've gotten the ability to be completely honest with an audience, to
know that I'm strong and healthy, that my crew is happy, and that the crowd
wants to hear the music. And afterward, we can talk and hang out. It's not the
fucking car, the house or all that other bullshit. It's about bringing some
tears and some honesty. I've still got a lot to learn."
by Chuck Taylor - Billboard Magazine