After the arduous creation of her 2015 album Better Than Home, including the death of co-producer Michael Stevens due to complications from cancer, Beth Hart was ready to have some fun — or at least a better time. And the sooner the better.
As such, Hart’s upcoming album Fire On The Floor –– due out Feb. 5 and premiering in full exclusively below — was written and recorded even before its predecessor was mixed. Still reeling from the Better Than Home sessions, Hart felt the best therapy would be working on more music, and she approached her label, Provogue/Mascot, with proposal to return to the studio.
“I assumed, of course, they’d say no,” Hart tells Billboard. “But Ed (van Zijl, Mascot CEO) is a really compassionate guy. He said, ‘Are you disappointed with Better Than Home? I don’t understand.’ And I was like, ‘I fell off a horse. If I don’t get back on I won’t get on again.’ And he got it and gave me the money to make (Fire On The Floor).”
There’s plenty of weight in Fire On The Floor‘s 12 tracks, but the making of the album was as light as Better Than Home was heavy. Hart worked with producer Oliver Leiber, who hosted sessions at his home studio in Toluca Lake, Calif., and brought in ace players such as Waddy Wachtel and Dean Parks on guitar, Ivan Neville and Jim Cox on keyboards and Rick Marotta on drums. “I really needed that experience of getting together with a group of people that are older and have been around a long time and know how to just enjoy themselves and be grateful to be alive, be grateful to make some music,” Hart says. “I really needed to be around that energy. I needed to not take it too seriously this time. We laid down 16 songs in three days. It was super easy.”
Kicking off with the jazzy lope of “Jazzman,” Fire On The Floor is broad and diverse, rolling from the soulful grooves of “Love Gangster” to the torchy R&B of “Good Day To Cry” and “Picture In a Frame,” the gritty blues of “Love Is A Lie” and “Coca Cola,” and the crunchy rock of “Fat Man,” which Hart co-wrote with Glenn Burtnick. “I’ve always written all over the place,” Hart notes. “I’ve got a lot of different artists I love from a lot of different genres, so as a writer of course I’m going to write in different areas like that.” And, she adds, Leiber was particularly supportive of that variety.
“What’s so fabulous about Oliver is he didn’t try to make me into anything I’m not,” she says. “My whole early career I would hear over and over, like a broken record from the label I was with and the producers they’d get me with, was ‘You have to be cohesive!’ I bought it at first, but…What the fuck does that mean? I’m not a bottle of Comet. This is music for God’s sake. That’s like telling someone that when you wear an outfit that every single part of the outfit has to be the same color. There was none of that with Oliver; He just said, ‘Love this song, don’t love this song, love that song…'”
Hart and her band will be part of the Keeping The Blues Alive At Sea cruise departing Feb. 6 from Tampa, then begin touring on Feb. 11 in Atlanta, with North American, Australian and European dates booked as well as an eight-date swing during March with the Experience Hendrix tour. She has the next album in the can already, too — a third set with guitarist Joe Bonamassa, the duo’s first since 2013’s Seesaw. It may be a minute before she follows up Fire On The Floor, however.
“I’ve written some songs this year, but I’m kind of taking a break,” she says. “There’s been a lot of work the past few years, so I’m gonna take my time on the next record and breathe a little bit. It’ll be interesting to see what comes next.”