Album Review: Beth Hart – War in My Mind

As Beth Hart’s popularity has exploded in the last decade, she’s matched it with continuously creating some of the best work of her enduring career. However, in the last few years, she’s been on an absolute tear with two albums in quick succession with albums in 2015 and 2016 and two live albums last year, one of which included her performance at the Royal Albert Hall and constant touring just for good measure.

War in My Mind sees normal service resuming for Hart with regards to her studio releases as the last few have normally been spaced out and given room to breathe. No stranger to dabbling in multiple genres across her releases, this is Hart’s most diverse release to date. On the other side of that, it takes a few listens to let it sink its teeth into you properly where previous albums were much more immediate. However, both of these feel like deliberate choices and like everything which preceded it, Hart comes across as one of the most authentic people in modern music.

Lyrically, Hart pulls from a number of familiar topics she’s used in the past: her relationship with her sister, her father, her mental health, addiction and love. But at no point has it become wearisome and here, it continues that way. Her fresh take on all of these ensures it’s not her rehashing it. Instead, it’s given her the opportunity to bestow a number of powerful tracks and make her most genuine and heartfelt album to date. Where it gets sombre and dark, it’s balanced with up-tempo tracks such as opener “Bad Woman Blues” – a story of a woman who knows she’s bad and refuses to change because she enjoys it and this is who she is.

Yet, in these down-beat numbers is when you find Hart at her best. The title track is full of peaks and valleys as Hart recounts her at her lowest with the power of the lyrics and hurt in her vocals, declaring “This is more than I can handle”. Indeed, the entire construction of the song reflects the battles people have on a daily basis with their mental health and as someone who’s never hidden from her own, she’s captured it more perfectly than she ever has. Moments like “Let it Grow” and “Sister Dear” with their more piano-driven melodies show the tenderness and diversity Hart can lend to her music and it’s when her music is at her most touching.

Elsewhere, “Try a Little Harder” captures a hint of Vegas as she looks at her father’s past. It also features a number of vocal scattings from her and even in those moments, she shows the diversity and raw power of her voice. “Spanish Lullabies” comes as no surprise with its Spanish guitar tones and shows that Hart can still move into new musical territory yet still ground it firmly within her own camp with its sultry undertones.

It’s this latter aspect that is revisited in “Sugar Shack”, a driving rhythm pushing it forward, dark and unrelenting. At the back end of the album, it nestles itself amongst “Rub Me For Luck”, “Woman Down”, “Thankful” and “I Need a Hero”. Each of them are more sombre and piano-driven and the parting shots of “Thankful” and “I Need a Hero” close the album stylistically in the same way Better Than Home did. Where the former is a more upbeat, stripped-back number, the latter has more hints of despair. But what ties them together is the contemplative nature of them and their different takes on the idea of acceptance.

War in My Mind is Beth Hart at her best. Her voice is at its best, full of powerful screams with an equal number of whispers, both of which will move you. Hart has crafted an album unlike any other in her career and while it may lyrically tread familiar ground, there’s still plenty to mine from it. There may be more stripped back songs here but it makes those hard-hitters all the sweeter. Baring her soul more than ever, this is Hart at her most real.

War in My Mind is released on 27th September

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