Some say there can be no artistry without agony. And the real life-changing events that shape the creative spirit don’t happen overnight.
Beth Hart has been dealing with demons that have pursued her for her whole life: her older sister who died from complications from AIDS when Beth was only 20 and her own battle with drugs, booze, bad relationships, bad decisions and ultimately the diagnosis that tied the knot on the whole damn thing, bi-polar disorder. It’s enough to send anyone into a downward spiral that’s inescapable.
And on face value, her new album, Better Than Home, is saying, “anything is better than those demons, so I’m gonna go out of my way to create something better than that.”
But, hold on for a minute, what’s been so bad about Beth’s life so far? Okay, she’s had issues, but look what she did in spite of them.
After her close friend and manager, David Wolff, saw her performing on the streets of LA, she got her record deal with Atlantic in a matter of weeks. What did they all see that even Beth sometimes didn’t? Why did three of the most successful producer-icons in the music business, David Foster, Hugh Padgem and Mike Clink, agree to work together on her debut album, Immortal? They all heard the same thing: a voice that inspires you, transforms you and takes you to the very depths of the human soul.
Her second album, Screamin’ For My Supper, with more than half the songs written solely by Beth herself, produced the hit single, L.A. Song (Out Of This Town). The single reached #6 in the Billboard Modern AC chart and #7 in the Adult Top 40 chart.
On the tour that followed, she met Scott Guetzkow, who was a drum technician, and later became her road manager. Anytime Beth would fall down, Scott, her “rock”, was there to help her up. And, as this bond grew, so did their feelings for each other, and they got married.
And when good things happen, better things follow. Her third album, Leave The Light On, was a critical success in the U.S., went platinum and the single Learning To Live reached #1 in Denmark. It marked the beginning of Europe’s love affair with her that’s still going strong.
Her first live album was recorded in Amsterdam. Live At Paradiso has survived the test of time and it is still one of the most talked-about Beth Hart performances.
37 Days was recorded live with her touring band at the time. The album was recorded and mixed over a period of 37 days; hence the title. It produced a #1 single in Denmark: As Good As It Gets.
Not only did she get the European audience’s attention, but also the incomparable Jeff Beck, who invited her to tour with him as his lead singer on one of his US tours.
The production of My California led to Beth’s collaboration with lead guitar superstar: Slash. He played on the track, Sister Heroine, and then Beth co-wrote and sang the song Mother Maria, which was released on his own album. This was the beginning of a friendship and collaboration with Slash that saw them performing together a number of times.
The album Bang Bang Boom Boom, made it to #3 in the Billboard Top Blues Album chart and shortly thereafter, Beth was nominated for a Blues Music Award.
In addition to Beth’s solo albums, she has also recorded two albums with blues icon Joe Bonamassa: Don’t Explain and Seesaw. Seesaw was nominated for a Grammy and Beth was nominated for a Blues Music Award for her performance on that album. The album, as well, reached #1 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart, #8 on the Billboard Top Independent Albums Chart and #47 in the Billboard 200 Chart. The Don’t Explain album made it to #3 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart, #22 on the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart and into the Billboard 200.
The stage was now set for a life-changing musical event for Beth.
In 2012, Beth appeared with Jeff Beck at the Kennedy Center Honors to celebrate Buddy Guy and his remarkable musical legacy with a once-in-a-lifetime rendition of Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind. What followed was one of the only two standing ovations of the evening, led by President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. If any of Beth’s demons were around that night, a few million television viewers were completely unaware of it.
This performance also led to collaboration with Beth and Buddy Guy; she sang on his new album Rhythm & Blues, another affirmation of Beth being regarded as one of the great vocalists of our times.
The producer of the Kennedy Center Honors, Michael Stevens, and the musical director, Rob Mathes, saw what people have been seeing for nearly 20 years: a woman who wears her soul on her sleeve and has the pipes to back it up. Michael and Rob decided to produce her new album, Better Than Home.
No words do a better job of summing up what this new album is all about, than the lyrics to the title song:
I can feel my body breathing
I can feel my heart movin’ fast
I am not afraid or lonely
I am not chasing the ghost of the past
Beth’s putting those demons behind her, embracing the great things she’s done and the good things she has and looking forward, because no matter how bad things got sometimes, no matter how dark the sky, something always drove her into the light.
And this new album celebrates that with all that firepower she’s been generating over the years.
The track, Mechanical Heart, is her love song to Scott:
If only I had a human touch
I’d give you the love you deserve so much
Tell Them To Hold On talks about how we deal with our fears:
Everyone’s looking for something to hold
Some kind of savior they need to be told
To hold on
St. Teresa is narrated by a man in prison and reflects how recovery from her demons and afflictions required no conversion, only renewal.
Mother is it ok if I call you mama?
My own walked away when I broke the law
And standing on the bridge feeling like falling
Would you pray for me mama
So maybe Better Than Home isn’t about running away from your past and the demons that have been chasing you. Maybe it’s merely about acknowledging that things weren’t perfect, but there’s always a better place that you can go to help you move on. This album isn’t about what’s been wrong with Beth’s life. Instead, she’s choosing to find the good things that have been there all along: accepting and loving her parents for who they really are, appreciating her good husband, facing her fears head on and ultimately finding ways to heal and convert that positive energy into music that moves people.
Look at what Beth has accomplished so far in her career: hit after hit, chart after chart, iconic guitar legends performing with her, top music producers and musicians eager to work with her, ever-growing audiences flocking to her shows in the US and Europe as well as newer ventures into Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Armenia, Georgia, to name a few.
Beth will be the first one to tell you she’s not perfect. She won’t gloss over the truth and owns up to the damage she sometimes did to herself. But when you hear Better Than Home, you want to tell Beth it’s all good. You want to say to her, “Most people don’t even know people who have reached the artistic heights you have.”
And if you want to hear first-hand how someone puts the demons in her life in their place, just listen. Better Than Home is the best place Beth Hart has ever been.