FIND­ING VOICE IN HEAL­ING

Singer-song­writer Beth Hart has had a life­time of pain to draw on for her mu­sic but she still finds things that she can be, and is, thank­ful for

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - LIVE & LOUD - NOEL MEN­GEL

Here’s a way you weren’t ex­pect­ing a Beth Hart al­bum to start. With the lines: I woke up this morn­ing/With a smile on my face.

It is a bright, hope­ful R&B song, with Hart’s gritty voice singing about han­dling the dark times and com­ing out the other side. The song is called Might As Well Smile and, for those who have fol­lowed the highs and lows of the Amer­i­can singer-song­writer’s ca­reer, it is a sign of good things to come. It wasn’t easy for her to write.

“I was chal­lenged by my ther­a­pist who said, ‘You’ve used mu­sic since you were a lit­tle girl to try and heal your wounds and con­fu­sion. Try writ­ing from a place where you aren’t lost, con­fused, sad, lonely, but where you are happy and free’.”

She gives a laugh that’s as big as her singing voice: “I thought that was the worst idea I had ever heard! Why would I sit down and write about hap­pi­ness when I would rather just be experiencing the hap­pi­ness? But it was an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge and it was fun to write like that, an up­lift­ing song but not in a corny or cheesy way.”

That’s just one side to Hart’s Bet­ter Than Home, one of the strong­est al­bums she has recorded in a 20-year ca­reer. There is hurt and heart­break, there has to be with a voice such as Hart’s, and it has never been in bet­ter shape as she de­liv­ers songs such as Tell ’Em To Hold On. It’s the kind of gospel-soul tune that could have ap­peared on one of Joe Cocker’s clas­sic early al­bums.

There is plenty of strength and heal­ing in th­ese songs too. But if the lis­tener hears pain in Hart’s voice, she’s speak­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence.

At 20 she lost a sis­ter to com­pli­ca­tions from AIDS and de­scended into her own battle with booze, drugs, bad re­la­tion­ships and, even­tu­ally, her di­ag­no­sis with bipo­lar dis­or­der.

“I had my first taste of real suc­cess when I was in my 20s, with At­lantic Records. I wasn’t be­ing med­i­cated prop­erly for my dis­or­der and I went out of my mind. The crush took my brain to a whole new place and I took abus­ing drugs and al­co­hol to a whole new place. Of course that didn’t work, it was ei­ther make a change or die.’’

While on tour she met drum tech­ni­cian Scott Guet­zkow, who be­came her hus­band and the rock be­hind her re­cov­ery, which in­cluded a year when she couldn’t face leav­ing her house, let alone mak­ing mu­sic. “He was so lov­ing and beau­ti­ful. There was no way I would have opted for get­ting help. I think I would have just, you know, let my life go. But I did choose to fight back and that was a di­rect re­sult of my hus­band.”

While the road has been the down­fall for many mu­si­cians, that’s not so for Hart.

“Do­ing a lot of ex­er­cise, that’s good for my brain chem­istry. If I’m on the road I don’t have a choice with that. I have to do the show. All that adren­a­line and sweat and get­ting the heart rate up, do­ing some­thing I love with my friends, that’s re­ally heal­ing.”

The new al­bum in­cludes some of Hart’s most fiery vo­cal per­for­mances and none bet­ter than Tell Her You Be­long To Me, which could be a song to an un­faith­ful lover but is in­spired by Hart’s re­la­tion­ship with her fa­ther at a point where his then-wife wouldn’t let her close to him.

Hart likes the sound of her voice on a record. “When I was younger I liked the way it felt in my chest, par­tic­u­larly when I sang very loud. If felt like I was get­ting ev­ery­thing out, the good, the bad, ev­ery­thing in be­tween. In my late 30s I started find­ing a dif­fer­ent voice that wasn’t about yelling or scream­ing; it was a lower tone. When I found that tone was the first time I en­joyed be­ing in a stu­dio. Be­fore that I hated my voice so much I couldn’t stand to be in there.”

That’s the voice you hear on her col­lab­o­ra­tion al­bums with blues gui­tarist Joe Bona­massa and with Bet­ter Than Home. It’s the voice of a sur­vivor.

“Th­ese things don’t go away; I will al­ways have bipo­lar dis­or­der but I have so many won­der­ful mo­ments in my life. When I wake up, one of the first things I do is thank God I’m alive.”

Pic­ture: MICHAEL BATTERHAM

Beth Hart has cred­ited love for help­ing her over­come is­sues with al­co­hol and drugs.

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