In this day and age of downloading single tracks by artists, the art of sequencing an album for maximum emotional impact is fast becoming a lost art and it will not be long until an entire generation will have been denied that delicious rollercoaster of feeling that only being inescapably strapped into the listening experience for the entire journey through an artist’s well sequenced path of songs can bring.
Beth Hart is one singer who certainly knows how to convey powerful feeling in a song, but still, at this relatively advanced stage of her career, has not quite yet mastered the knack of track sequencing an entire album.
Whilst her frequent album output in recent years has offered up some of the most thrillingly evocative female vocal performances in recent memory, too often, anti-climactic follow-up tunes have often left her listeners frustrated and hanging on an emotional precipice where we had been carried minutes before, but with no clear footholds to make our way back to a more grounded level of psychological sensitivity in readiness for the climb to the next emotive peak.
Her new album, Fire On The Floor has not quite got the formula right either – but there is clear evidence here that she is slowly getting closer to the balance required to really deliver the tour de force album she is surely destined to make very soon.
The first half of the new album, whilst undoubtedly impeccably played musically, and pulsing with Hart’s vocal power, presents us with too much of a stylistic ‘grab bag’ and does not clearly establish any real semblance of a consistent mood or feel. Hence the jazzy opener, Jazz Man, the bluesy Love Gangster, and the more soulful and upbeat, Let’s Get Together, are all emasculated by their proximity to each other and collectively leave you in the holding pen, giddy with anticipation but still really waiting for the ride to begin.
The problem, however, is resolved in the second half of the album, and the second suite of songs are magnificent and collectively strengthened by their running order.
Starting from the smouldering title tune, Fire On The Floor, Hart does what she does best – totally inhabits the narrative of her songs and makes you believe – and feel – every word.
The heartbreaking beauty of Woman You’ve Been Dreaming Of (a tale of a woman who lies next to her lover at night and sees and hears their dreams of another), bleeds into the defiant, but ultimately unsustainable, sass of Baby Shot Me Down, before the pleading desperation of Good Day To Cry leaves you wrung out and barely able to breathe.
The last two tracks salve the scars of the visceral experience Hart has just put the listener through. Picture In A Frame provides a wonderful study in reflective heartbreak, and the last track, No Place Like Home, sung with such whispered restraint – a new attraction in Hart’s array of vocal thrill rides – supplies the album’s fragile, but very neat, denouement and lets us relieve our empathetic angst, knowing she will survive her ordeal: ‘There’s a place that’s meant for us /Full of faith, hope, love and trust / I’ll keep trudging up the road / But someday I’ll be going home.’
Whilst there is nothing on this album that reaches the lofty heights of her ‘must hear’ interpretation of I’d Rather Go Blind from her 2011 Don’t Explain album (with Joe Bonamassa), or of the simmering Love Is The Baddest Blues, from 2012’s Bang Bang Boom Boom, there is that second half sequence here that could be just enough to make it Hart’s most fully satisfying record yet.
If you are yet to discover Beth Hart’s amazing voice, Fire On The Floor is an excellent entry point from which to start exploring her catalogue.
Fire On The Floor is available on CD, LP and Digital formats and is released on Provogue Records.