Separating from producer Kevin Shirley for the first time in three records, Beth Hart chose to work with Rob Mathes and Michael Stevens for 2015's Better Than Home. A change in producers helped Hart change direction, letting her depart from the down-and-dirty blues belting she specialized in throughout her time with Shirley, reconnecting slightly to her singer/songwriter beginning while emphasizing deep soul roots. Despite opening with the tight Memphis groove of "Might as Well Smile," most of the album is grandly introspective -- majestic brooding ballads with a clear debt to early Elton John. This cinematic landscape provides a nice contrast to Hart's raw, nervy vocals, accentuating the aching in her delivery. This emotional immediacy compensates for the sometimes elliptical songs, songs that take a little while to settle, but the risks Hart's taken on Better Than Home pay off: this is a distinctive, ambitious record that takes advantage of her natural talents in surprising ways.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Stepping away from the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens teams up with producer T-Bone Burnett for her 2015 solo debut, Tomorrow Is My Turn. Giddens previously worked with Burnetton Lost on the River, an album where musicians added new music to lyrics Bob Dylan left behind during The Basement Tapes, and she also appeared in a concert he shepherded for the Coenbrothers' folk revival opus Inside Llewyn Davis -- two projects steeped in history, as is Tomorrow Is My Turn. Here, Giddens expands upon the neo-string band of the Carolina Chocolate Drops by crafting an abbreviated and fluid history of 20th century roots music -- along with the older forms that informed it -- concentrating on songs either written or popularized by female musicians. As a torchbearer, not a revivalist, Giddins isn't concerned with replicating either the sound or feel of the past, so she comfortably slips a subdued hip-hop drum loop into "Black Is the Color," a standard here credited to Nina Simone, and blurs country and soul boundaries on Patsy Cline's "She's Got You." These two are the most overt tamperings with tradition but Giddens is sly throughout Tomorrow Is My Turn, giving Elizabeth Cotten's "Shake Sugaree" a deceptively lively little lilt and casting Dolly Parton's "Don't Let It Trouble Your Mind" as a rolling progressive folk tune that creates an invisible bridge between past and present. Much of Giddens' work on Tomorrow Is My Turn demonstrates the benefits of such careful, deliberate sculpting, making it a nice fit for Burnett's handsome acoustica. Thankfully, the austereness that sometimes creeps into T-Bone's new millennial work is nowhere to be found; there's a warmth that radiates from Giddens, which is crucial to the success of the record. Her easy, welcoming touch is a balm every time Tomorrow Is My Turn is played, but it's upon successive spins that the intricacies of Giddens' construction -- not to mention her subtle political messages -- begin to take hold.
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Wednesday, April 01, 2015
This double disc is an exact replication of a concert vocalist Beth Hart and guitarist Joe Bonamassaperformed in Amsterdam in support of their studio album Seesaw. What you hear is what was played: there are no overdubs or digital studio fixes. They replicate all but one track from the studio album ("Sunday Kind of Love") and five more from their 2011 offering Don't Explain, and play some other covers and a long band jam called "Antwerp Jam" as a finale. Hart and Bonamassa are backed by a killer band to boot, including a full horn section, drummer Anton Fig, bassist Carmine Rojas, rhythm guitarist Blondie Chaplin, and keyboardist Arlan Schierbaum. Highlights include their reading ofDelaney Bramlett's "Well, Well," Ike Turner's "Nutbush City Limits," "Sinner's Prayer," "Something's Got a Hold on Me," "Chocolate Jesus," "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know," and, of course, Ms. Hart's devastating reading of Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind." Given her considerable power and ability to convey a wide range of emotions, this is not merely a set for guitar god worshipers -- though there's plenty for them here, too
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