Beth Hart’s Bulls-Eye: Bang, Bang, Boom, Boom

Beth Hart: Bang, Bang, Boom, Boom Cover Art
Beth Hart: Bang, Bang, Boom, Boom Cover Art

Beth Hart
Bang, Bang, Boom, Boom
Label: Mascot Label Group/Provogue Records
North American Release Date: April 2, 2013

I must begin this review by disclosing that I am an unabashed fan of Beth Hart and have been since first encountering the Leave The Light On album and the Live At Paradiso DVD. Admittedly that has been a bit of a “secret handshake” existence. So – no surprise – I was thrilled to see Hart’s high profile guest spot as chanteuse to guitarist Jeff Beck at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors event that found her belting “I Would Rather Go Blind” in tandem with Beck’s stinging unorthodox guitar licks. It’s always a sweet vindication when an artist you’ve championed gets some healthy buzz and an honest shot to break to a major audience. In conjunction with that December 2012 highlight and a tour that is selling out multiple venue dates, Hart’s new album Bang, Bang, Boom, Boom should present the bulls-eye career moment that has proved elusive in the past.

Hart has always produced work deserving of wide recognition. Along with her vocal prowess she is an excellent hit-producing songwriter (Jo Dee Messina’s “Delicious Surprise,”) smart interpreter (hear her version of Warren Haynes’ “Soulshine”) and savvy collaborator with the likes of guitarists Joe Bonamassa, Neal Schon, Slash and Jeff Beck. Bonamassa appears on this album’s “There In Your Heart,” adding his signature Clapton-esque lead lines.

Opening the album with a simple piano figure that grows into a torchy confessional “Baddest Blues” presents a worthy addition to the list of baroque step children of “I Put A Spell On You” like The Shangri-Las’ “(Remember) Walking In The Sand” and The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” While not as overwrought as either of the aforementioned, the song’s massive guitar punctuated chorus, multi-tracked vocals, and lyrics would have easily made it a spectacular candidate for a James Bond film theme.

The first single is title track “Bang, Bang, Boom, Boom” featuring a beer hall bounce that evokes 1920’s-30’s Brecht and Weill cabaret. The style is mined for the imagery in the official video, casting Hart as a Marlene Dietrich inspired femme fatale in a desert blackmail payoff scenario.

Beth Hart (Photo Credit: Jeff Katz)
Beth Hart (Photo Credit: Jeff Katz)

While Hart’s medium of choice is blues based it is not specifically THE Blues as characterized and nearly caricatured by classic rock bands of the seventies. Though often compared to Janis Joplin, that singular observation is too facile to describe an artist whose range is as wide as Hart’s. On this album she gets to explore the full spectrum of possibilities her vocal and songwriting talents afford. There’s everything from Gospel tinged testifying on “Spirit of God”, Mad Men era Sinatra on “Swing My Thing Back Around” that is dripping in a super snazzy horn arrangement, “Thru the Window of My Mind” (produced by Rune Westberg) offers a floating melodic line that would be at home on the classic U2 album The Joshua Tree, and there’s an aura of White Album era Beatles in the chord voicings of “Everything Has Changed.”

Producer Kevin Shirley first worked with Hart and Bonamassa on 2011’s Don’t Explain, an album that Bang, Bang, Boom, Boom is a stylistic kissin’ cousin to. Shirley has fashioned a tight and richly detailed sonic design that cradles Hart’s nuanced vocals. Check the nearly whispered opening lines of “Caught Out In the Rain” for a lesson in finesse. All embellishments exist to serve the singer, even when things get brassy and rocky, making for excellent radio friendly tracks.

Though the live Kennedy Center Honors performance of “I Would Rather Go Blind” ends the album with a bit of a tacked-on or bonus track feel it is a welcome addition as the possible selling point that brings in those who first encountered Hart via that broadcast. I think they’ll be quite pleased to have joined a fan base that will soon no longer be a secret society.