Beth Hart’s previous album Better Than Home quickly secured itself as one of my favourite albums of 2015 and I’d argue it’s her definitive album. The one where you point newcomers to. The musical and lyrical direction went everywhere but managed to retain a sense of consistency. Mainly Hart’s voice anchoring everything together.
If you look at her back catalogue, albums have been giving their own breathing space of a couple of years but this time with Fire On the Floor, she’s jumped straight in and delivered another set of meaty songs. Seriously, there’s not a weak song here.
It’s when you hit play for the first time and the smooth jazz of the aptly-titled “Jazz Man” starts; you’re just waiting for that voice to kick in. The voice which has the power to make my neck hair stand to attention just thinking about it. Much like its predecessor, Fire On the Floor strays into various genres and you can hear in the composition how each song could be played live (pretty much no two nights at a Beth Hart show has a carbon copy setlist).
Whilst there is jazz, salsa, grunge and most importantly – blues – the styles of the songs come second. Up front and centre is Beth and her voice. It’s why you’ve bought the album, at the end of the day. A once-in-a-generation voice, it’s what keeps me coming back, album after album. Whether it’s soulful blues or her characteristic gravelly screams, it has the power to captivate you, as it has done since the woman made her first foray into music several years ago. There’s also a playful sultriness in songs like “Coca Cola” and “Let’s Get Together”, her voice recognisable but completely different from the norm.
There’s a lighter mood on Fire On the Floor compared to its predecessor which deals with dark issues and the recording process brought all that to the fore. Here, we have an album full of optimism and care-free moments. It’s not all upbeat numbers as there’s traditional sombre corners such as “Woman You’ve Been Dreaming Of” but even there, the tone isn’t quite so heavy. Essentially, it’s grittier and reflects the character of the songstress herself; confident in her ability and happy to do her own thing, regardless of the opinions of others. There’s no departure but the upbeat nature makes a brilliant antithesis to its predecessor, even reflected in the album art. You could have packaged these together and made a double album; a dark side and a light side. Musically, they’re close enough you could justify it.
However, Hart may be the star of the show but she’s not done a Prince and recorded everything herself. With a brilliant studio band behind her, it’s no surprise that they’ve knocked out sixteen songs in three days (twelve feature on the album). You have guitars from Michael Landau and Waddy Wachtel, knocking out riffs and songs like “Fat Man” sound like a bluesier version of Soundgarden and you have the pulsating tones hiding underneath the piano during the dark “Love is a Lie”. Drummer Rick Marotta gets the chance to stake his claim here as well as on the salsa-infused and funky “Let’s Get Together”, a song you can’t help but move along to.
Meanwhile, you have Jim Cox on piano delivering some of the best, most haunting piano melodies you’ll hear and it’s on the title track that you could argue the keys and the bluesy slide guitar sends shivers down your spine rather than Hart’s voice. The other shining moment he features is during album closer “No Place Like Home”.
It’s fairly reasonable to say Beth Hart had a hell of a job on her hands to follow Better Than Home. Fortunately, she’s managed to pull it off with aplomb and has made another incredible album.