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Beth Hart: My California

February 7, 2011
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Beth Hart – My California
October, 2010 (Amazon)

It’s been (at the time of this review, February, 2011) just a shade over two years since Beth released “37 Days”, which has some truly incredible songs on it.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned elsewhere her vocal ferocity on “One Eyed Chicken”, in which the analogy I still use to describe her voice is, “…imagine if a top-fuel dragster could sing…”.  She also does a cool cover of “Soul Shine” (of The Allman Brothers fame) that is worth listening to, plus a bunch of other songs that are, in my opinion, pretty damned good.

The new album, “My California” is different.  It’s different from “37 Days”, and it’s different from every other album she’s recorded.  It has a certain degree of acceptance and maturity to it that, so far as I can tell, can only be gained by having been around the block a few times, and having had your ass kicked a couple times along the way.  And Beth’s definitely taken her share of ass whuppin’s, many of them self-inflicted2.  To wit, it may be helpful to you to listen to these interviews before you listen to the record: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, & Part 6 This might help you get a feel for where she’s coming from and what these songs are about.  Me…I wouldn’t have the patience to do that, especially if I weren’t a fan, so I certainly wouldn’t blame you for not putting that much prep work into just giving the album a listen.  In fact, I think the music and songs should speak for themselves.  IF they strike a chord with you and IF you feel so inclined to do further research, then reference that 6-part interview and enjoy.

On to the album.  This is a review of the European distribution which has the tracks listed in a different order than is shown on Amazon, plus it includes a bonus track (“Oh me, Oh my”) not available on the Amazon version.


Track listing:

  1. My California
  2. Life is Calling
  3. Happiness….any day now
  4. Love is the Hardest
  5. Bad Love Is Good Enough
  6. Drive
  7. Sister Heroine
  8. Take It Easy On Me
  9. Like You (and everyone else)
  10. Everybody Is Sober
  11. Weight Of The World
  12. Oh Me Oh My

My California

Peaceful & hauntingly beautiful.  This seems to me to be a surrender to, and acceptance of missing and loving and longing.  I don’t know if it’s really about “California”, and it’s tempting not to take it at face value, but to pretend I had any insight to what her true thoughts were when writing this would simply be dishonest.  I don’t know for sure what she means, I just know I like the song.  It grows on me every time I hear it.

Calling California,
Is there anybody home.
Hello California,
Would you please pick up the phone.

I wanna say I love you,
but I’m a milion miles away.
I am thinking of you,
I miss you and LA.

For you and you alone,
I’ll lay my monsters down.
We’ll watch the sun come up over California

For you and you alone,
I’ll find my way back home.
I love you like the sun loves California,
My California..

Life is Calling

Sunday morning,
The worlds still sleeping and the
rain keeps falling,
like angels weeping and I,
I feel the tears on my skin,
Their trying to tell me something,
I listen..

Blues and yellows,
Tap on my window so I
let the night go.
With all my shadows and I,
I feel the sun on my skin,
It’s trying to tell me something
I listen..

Life is calling
Life is calling out my name.
Make it matter,
Say it louder,
Stay alive another day.
Life is calling out my name.

I think this song must be about what it’s like to be standing at the edge of the abyss of deep, deep depression, and finding a reason to turn away from the darkness and walk towards the light.  Towards “life”.  Again, this probably isn’t what most Beth Hart fans would have thought of if somebody told them to name a Beth Hart tune that they love, but it is still, undeniably, a Beth Hart tune.  I know that sounds redundant, but I don’t mean it that way.  I mean it like, “No, it probably isn’t what you were expecting, but it’s still her.”  It’s not the best song on the album, but it’s still a good song.

Happiness Any Day Now

Happiness is leaning on my shoulder
like a ciggarette, burning me all over
It is killing me, slipping through the cracks of my
sweet misery, Sunday morning stories of you
is always all about you.

Happiness is crying in the kitchen drinking
like a friend and all my ugly wishes, it is
listening while I’m chocking on my pride and all the
songs I scream, Sunday morning stories of you
is always all about..

Happiness is laughing at me like a clown
Watching my Nirvana crashing to the ground
In the middle of the perfect nervous breakdown
Happiness, any day now

Again, I’m not really sure what this song is about.  I think it’s probably best to take it at face value, which would seem to indicate that it’s about having that feeling that there’s a dark cloud hovering over you, and still maintaining a wry smile about it.  From a production standpoint I like some of the “layering” effects they’ve added to the chorus, which isn’t typical and with Beth’s voice, certainly isn’t necessary, but still…it sounds cool, and overall, I like the song.

Love is the Hardest

Coffee on the floor,
Listen to the water boil.
Screaming on the phone,
Trying to make somebody call.

Jumping off the roof,
Maybe I’ll survive again.
Staring at the sun,
Waiting for the world to end..

Oh…Love is the hardest
Oh…Love is a mess
I know it’s all my fault
I just don’t love anymore, anymore.

The devil’s on the porch,
Drinking with the radio.
Angel at the door,
I don’t let her in no more.

If I had a chance,
Maybe I’d forgive myself and
If I had a heart,
I’d give it to somebody else.

Definitely a beautiful song, and a sad song.  Her tonality during the intro lyrics sounds awkwardly nasal, but somehow it still seems to work.  The chorus is straight-up Beth Hart.  Who among the 30 and older crowd can’t identify with “Love is the hardest”?  What does that mean exactly?  I’m not sure, and yet, I know exactly what she means.  Music is a trip like that; it’s ability to communicate emotions that are all but impossible to communicate in any other way.  Once again, thumbs up from Pants.

Bad Love Is Good Enough

Your loves like a cigarette,
burning on my breath tonight.
Your love leaves no promises for the emptiness inside
And I know that I should leave, but
I know I’m gonna stay, cuz no good
man I ever known has made me hurt this way.

But everybody wants somebody,
somebody good to love.
I just want anybody,
Bad love is good enough.
Your bad love is good enough.

Now this song I get.  First, I love the acoustic guitar on this, and I bet this sounds awesome with just Beth and a guitar.  Goddamn I’d love to sit next to her and play a song and hear her sing.

Anyway, I really don’t think there’s much explanation necessary for this one.  It’s like having free pizza that you really don’t care for, but hey…free pizza.

Drive

Got your girlfriends letter,
she ain’t no better, but
I’m the only woman tonight and
I’m choking on trouble,
So pass me the bottle.
Shut your mouth and drive..

Roll down the windows,
unlock the door,
Don’t care if you love me anymore..

I can keep your secrets
and I’ll believe your lies
Anything to keep you one more night
It’s all right.

This song has a certain “I don’t give a fuck anyway” quality to it that’s liberating and saddening at the same time.  I get the feeling that this song is like that “one more round” decision you make at the bar when you mentally give in to the fact that you’re making a bad decision, and yet you’re going to do it anyway, and so “just shut the fuck up and pass me that bottle.”  Worse, I get the feeling that she’s singing about making that decision with somebody you know damn good and well is going to get you in trouble.  You know that friend you (have / used to have?) who (a) probably isn’t married, (b) is just funner-than-hell to hang out with, but (c), just always seems to find trouble.  Everybody has (or had) that friend, and I’m guessing can relate, in some way, to this song.  And if by chance that friend is “you”, just shut your mouth and drive…

Sister Heroine

Go ahead and call me a pussy, but the very FIRST time I heard this song it put a lump in my throat.  And if this song doesn’t put a lump in your throat, you’re probably either a robot or a sociopath.  Or a sociopathic robot.  The longing & honesty in her voice when she cries, “I love you, I love you, I love you” is just gut wrenching to me.  As she indicates in the video, this song is dedicated to her (older) sister Sharon who died of AIDS from sharing dirty needles.

However, when I watched those interviews I linked to above, I saw that Beth said this song wasn’t particularly sad for her.  That is, it was just an honest, “Goddamn I miss you Sharon” type of song.  A very Buddhist state of acceptance, if you ask me.  It either takes a shitload of “perspective”, or a shitload of time to gain that perspective, but either way, there’s a whole bunch of reckoning that has to happen to get to that state where you look back at somebody you’ve lost and you’re just thankful that you got to share a part of your life with them at all.

It’s gonna be a dark cold december
With shaking lillies in the yard.
& your sweet face I will remember
How I’m gonna miss your stubburn heart.

So forgive me for my weakness
I guess my faith is a little stoned.
The angels cried on a friday
The day that God walked you home.

So goodbye Sister heroine
I’ll remember everything, I love you..
Goodbye white trash beauty Queen
Your crooked heart & your beat up
dreams, I love you…

It hurts to laugh here without you
A piece inside of us is gone.
Mama tries to smile too
Aint never seen that woman try so hard.

No more working Alvarado
No more liars, tramps or thieves.
Your skin & bones don’t cast no shadow
on an empty bed in Motel Six

Take It Easy On Me

God bless this,
God bless that.
God I’ll miss you now.

All the people left,
when the blue sky crashed
and I can’t do this alone.

I am scared to change,
To stay the same,
When I’m calling out your name..

Take it easy on me,
Take it easy on me,
I will trust you,
I will let you hurt me carefully.

Take it easy on me,
I break easily and
this steel butterfly will learn to fly
eventually..
God take it easy on me.

I think the chorus pretty much sums it up.

Like You (and everyone else)

Another good video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAb5E4QPZwk

I’ve been to hell and it looked just like heaven,
I made a friend and I felt forgiven, like you, and everyone else.

I’m ashamed but, I’m just human,
With oceans of dreams, and seas of confusion.
Like you… and everyone else..

Holding my breath when I just want to scream
hiding the face, I don’t want you to see
making a mess of myself trying to be like you
and everyone else..

They put me away, told me I’m crazy
I don’t belong but, maybe they’ll save me
Talked to the pain, it’s been here forever
the drugs make me sane, but they don’t make me better..

Holding my breath when I just want to scream,
hiding the face, I don’t want you to see,
making a mess of myself trying to be like you, like you..
Losing my faith when I say I believe,
Looking at you for the answers I need,
walking away from myself, trying to be like you, and everyone else.
Everyone else..

A buddy of mine came to mind when I heard the “Talked to the pain, it’s been here forever, the drugs make me sane, but they don’t make me better” part.  I think he relayed that to me almost verbatim a year or two before I heard the song, and when I heard it, it was like a lightning bolt of clarity and recognition.  I suddenly understood, and with that understanding came a little bit of pain and sadness and compassion.  I felt lucky that I didn’t have to go through what he was (and is) going through, and sad for him.  Life just ain’t fucking fair.  Anyway, the song had an immediate emotional impact on me, so I don’t think I can be a dispassionate observer at this point.  It feels a little too close to me, so I’ll just ask you to listen to it and draw your own opinion.

I will say this though, the Norwegian chick interviewing Beth irritates the shit out of me.  I just know – I know it same as I know that OJ was guilty – I guar-an-damn-tee-ya she (the Norwegian chick) doesn’t know jack shit about Beth Hart. You can just tell.

Everybody is Sober
“…And I’m still high”

I like this song, but I can’t really explain why I like it.  I’m not really sure what it’s about, I’m not sure what some of the lyrics are, and it seems I “listen” to the song only to realize that it’s over, and I’m not sure that I’ve paid any attention to it.  About 3-min into the song Beth just scratches the tip of her vocal iceberg, and then backs off again, deferring to restraint.  I’ve listened to it three times while typing this, and this is still the best review I can come up with.  Weird.

Weight of the World

God I’d love to be able to sing half as good as her.  And this is a song I’d definitely cover.  This song’s in my soul, if not in my voice.  It’s a totally kick-ass tribute to her parents.  And can you imagine the shit they’ve been through?  Losing a daughter (Sharon, see “Sister Heroine”), and then having to worry night and day whether they were gonna get that phone call about Beth?  And how many times did she (Beth) come “this” [illustrative gesture unseen, but unnecessary) close to cashing out?  Even she doesn’t know.

Side-note: If you haven’t already figured out, I’m a quasi freak about music.  I dig it.  I literally (I’m not making this up) get goosebumps when I hear certain songs, and Beth’s “One Eyed Chicken” is one that gets me every time.  Anyway, so I was trying to figure out how to play “Weight of the world” on the piano, and…best I can tell, she plays the video version you see/hear here ½ step down from the version she plays on the album.  She’s hitting a bunch of black keys, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what she’s doing on the video.  I can come pretty close to the album version, but still, it’s really nowhere close at all.

Oh me, Oh My

You know what kicks ass about this song?  No, not even that, about this video?  Look at it.  It was shot by some dude with a “Regular Joe” digital recorder, and she sounds fucking awesome!  Are you kidding me!  Look at the “sound stage” she has to work with!  And listen to how good she sounds!  Are you kidding me!  If I had to pick between a million dollars and the ability to sing like her…that wouldn’t be an easy choice.  In fact, I’d strongly consider taking the voice, because I could probably earn that much with such an instrument at my disposal, and even if I lost all the money…I’d still have the voice.  Wow.  She is so incredibly amazing.  What an unbelievable talent!

Anyway, so there you have it.  My completely biased, head-over-heels, overwhelmingly partisan review that in no way would ever cast so much as a shadow of doubt on the inherent genius contained therein.

Beth, if you happen to read this, me & the Mrs are making a special (as in, we’ve never done anything like this before) trip to see you at “The Blockley” in Philly on 2/26/2011, and I plan to do a full review of that show on this blog.  It’d make my year to get a chance to interview you, or to get a chance to strum a guitar while you sing.  Holy Mother of all that it awesome I’d love that!

Can’t wait!

Oh, and for you readers…get on board will ya, this chick is a fucking rare, once-in-a-generation talent.  Pay attention starting now.


Footnotes

  1. I don’t watch the show “Losing It”, with Jillian Michaels, but some of you might.  If you’ve ever wondered who sang the theme song, “Learning to Live”…Beth Hart
  2. About them ass whuppin’s I mentioned…some folks have to deal with more than others.  From the Jillian Michaels “Who is Beth Hart” page, here’s a glimpse of what it’s been like to walk in her shoes:
  3. “Beth is from California and has been playing the piano since she was 4. When she was 5 years old, her father was convicted of drug dealing and sentenced to prison. After his release, Beth’s parents divorced after 15 years of marriage. At the age of 11 years old, Beth herself started to use alcohol and drugs and when she was 15 years old, her boyfriend introduced her to heroin.

    In 1993 she won 13 episodes of Star Search in a row, singing the music of Janis Joplin, Melissa Etheridge and Aretha Franklin, as well as songs she had written herself, including ‘Show Me the Way’ and ‘Am I the One’. Eventually she won the final Star Search competition.

  4. And finally, just for the hell of it…Change is Gonna Come

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2 Responses to “ Beth Hart: My California ”

  1. Tiffany Madison on February 7, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Beautifully written… I love you!

  2. aviv on February 9, 2011 at 2:56 am

    beautiful review.
    I like the new album, but it could still be better.
    beth is now recording a new cover album, and I can’t wait for that!

    thank u!

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