Beth Hart

Fire on the Floor

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Beth Hart took some risks on 2015's Better Than Home, an ambitious record that sadly saw its co-producer Michael Stevens die from cancer during its recording. Given all this, it's not such a surprise to see Hart loosen up for its 2017 sequel, Fire on the Floor. Feeling the urgent need to exorcize lingering demons, Hart returned to the studio to cut Fire on the Floor before Better Than Home was released, and the record does carry a sense of urgency: It indeed feels fresh, even spontaneous. Certainly, it doesn't feel as weighty as the raw, yearning Better Than Home, not with the humor and swagger that Hart displays throughout the album. Working with producer Oliver Leiber, who helped assemble a selection of studio pros highlighted by the legendary studio guitarist Waddy Wachtel and organist Ivan Neville, Hart seems relaxed and playful -- a sensibility that's evident from the opening "Jazz Man." This song title suggests that she might be headed down a jazzy road, but Fire on the Floor showcases her versatility, bouncing between slinky jazz and grinding blues ("Love Gangster") while finding space for outright rockers ("Fat Man"), Southern soul ("Let's Get Together"), and a gospel-inflected ballad ("No Place Like Home"). None of this feels showy: it flows easily and naturally, the songs connected by their deep Americana roots and the snappy skill of the players. Even if the album is slick and in the pocket, it's soulful; it feels like Hart is reconnecting with the reason why she makes music and that's what gives Fire on the Floor a kick.

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