Photo courtesy of Richard Bolwell

Beth Hart is at the tail end of her USA and British tour that culminates at the Royal Albert Hall on the 4th May, but I’m glad I went to Portsmouth with its bright, clear acoustics and more intimate setting.  It may be nearly game-over for this tour, but Hart showed no signs of tiring, she began singing confidently in the auditorium while the band struck up. Working her way through the aisles, shaking extended hands as she sung her opener, “Somethings Got a Hold on Me” towards the stage, dressed in a simple black shift dress.

It’s a small set-up, with a drummer, bassist and lead guitarist, multi-instrumentalist Beth is left to rotate between keys, guitar and acoustic bass (which she is still learning) while doing vocal duties as well.  Hart has no new studio album to promote, but has just released “Live & Centre, Live in NY”, not a greatest hits package but an eclectic showcase of mainly more recent material but we get mostly a different selection tonight.

Hart is a long-time collaborator with blues guitarist, Joe Bonamassa, with whom she has made a few albums, but on this tour the lead guitar is taken up by John Nichols.  Hart has chosen a set list that moves a little away from the kind of wailing blues she has a reputation for and maybe she has picked songs that her new guitarist can cope with.  Nichols arrived on stage with a Telecaster, more known as a rhythm instrument, and my heart sank a little.  Although he swapped guitars after every song, it was mainly Telecasters so there were no flourishes or stunning solos to melt the lighting track or thrill the audience.

However Hart clearly loves her craft and a grateful crowd and her charisma shines out, with a more attacking version of “Don’t Explain” and Tom Waits’ jaunty “Chocolate Jesus”.  Although she makes covers her own with her heady brew of blues, jazz, soul and country, she also showcased her own writing talents.  “Tell Her You Belong to Me” is an emotional rendition of a daughter’s plea to her father regarding his infidelity.  Hart’s Mother was in the front row and there was some banter with her on some of the more autobiographical tracks, eventually dedicating “Baddest Blues” to her Mum.  Beth Hart easily held the large room, she was engaging with just the right amount of chat.  Hart talks openly about her mental health issues, she has bipolar disorder and addiction issues and once blew the $100k she won on a talent show on hard living in 6 months, but sobriety has brought a new focus for her talent, though the sparks of wildness show through in her tough but tender voice.

Watching Hart, you get the feeling that she really loves performing, clocking up a 2 hour show and eventually, after singing “My California” to her tour manager husband, he kissed her then physically pulled her off stage.  A three-song encore ensued, ending on “There’s no Place like Home” and a wonderful evening flew past successfully.

The photograph for this piece was taken by Richard Bolwell. You can see more of his excellent photographs and reviews here.

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Here’s one for the guitarheads in London and the Southeast. The highly-respected and dynamic blues rock power trio Wille & the Bandits will be bringing their powerful live show to The 100 Club on Friday October 28th.  The lineup is Wille Edwards (Lead Vocals, Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Electric Lap Steel, Weissenhorn and Dobro), Matt Brooks (Six String Electric Bass, Five String Double Bass, String Arrangements and Backing Vocals) and Andy Naumann (Drums and Percussion) and just one look at that list of instruments tells you that this is about serious musicianship.

The band has been praised by people who know their music, including Joe Bonnamassa and Bob Harris and their album “Steal” (Featuring Don Airey on three tracks) will be out soon on Jigsaw.

Watch the live video of “Virgin Eyes” and you’ll see what all the fuss is about:

 

Product DetailsI may have said this before, but I love an album that opens with a statement of intent and “House in the Woods” does just that.  The title track opens with a huge guitar riff backed by a smoky Hammond and you know exactly what you’re going to get, particularly when the lead vocal drops in on top of the guitar/organ interplay.  The arrangements on this album lean quite heavily on the late 60s/early 70s power trio tradition of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and even Rory Gallagher with guitar riffs and fills punctuating the vocals; the addition of the Hammond of Moritz Fuhrhop to this powerful mix offers extra textures and another layer to the sound.

There’s one thing which makes this album stand above the rank and file of blues/rock albums and that’s Henrik Freischlader’s voice; it’s raw, powerful and, at times, incredibly emotional.  Normally you expect singer/guitarists to excel in one discipline, but Henrik Freischlader is a great guitar player and a great singer and he’s equally convincing in all of the styles on offer here.  “House in the Woods” and “Sisters” are blues riff-driven, while “Nowhere to Go” and “1999” are much more funk -influenced, but the first real revelation comes with “Breaking My Heart Again” where Henrik’s voice, rather than his guitar work, dominates for the first time.  The first time I heard this song, I was convinced that it was a Paul Carrack lead vocal, and that’s not a comparison I make lightly.  There are thousands of guitarists who can belt out high tempo blues tunes but, for me, the real singers are the ones who can perform well on the slower, more laid-back tunes as well.  Henrik Freischlader is one of the real singers.

The second half of the album carries on in the same vein, with the funky “Take the Blame” and riff-driven “Hear Your Talking” leading into the ballad “Two Young Lovers” before the brooding menace of “With the Flow” and the closing slow blues of “Won’t You Help Me”.  The album is a well-rounded collection of songs from ballads to fairly hard blues riff-rock; the band sound convincing throughout, but the vocals really shine on the two ballads “Breaking My Heart Again” and “Won’t You Help Me”.

If you’re into the great blues-rock players like Gary Moore, Johnny Winter and Joe Bonamassa, then you’ll love this album; the playing is always superb and there’s a song for everyone here, whether you want a heartfelt ballad, a riffmonster or something with a backbeat, they’re all here.  Listen to this in the car at maximum volume.

“House in the Woods” is out on February 4 2013 on Cable Car Records.