Live albums are the chameleons of the music world, trotted out to serve a variety of purposes as circumstance demands. In their purest distillation, live albums represent lightning in a bottle, capturing and preserving an astounding performance for posterity and allowing those who weren’t there a glimpse of the greatness. On a more base level, they may be released as a cheap means of maintaining an artist’s profile with the public, or a way of keeping the fan base placated in lieu of new material. So, with Live From New York – Front and Center, which category of live album has Beth Hart released?
With the recent release of Black Coffee in partnership with Joe Bonamassa, and Hart’s last solo record, Fire on the Floor, coming out a mere eighteen months ago, we can dismiss the idea of Front and Center being released as a ploy to tide the fans over. So it must represent an amazing performance, right? Maybe. Make no mistakes about it, Front and Center sounds awesome. Throughout, Hart’s vocals are on point – and we would expect no less from a singer of Hart’s reputation – and her backing band perform immaculately, yet the performance at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York doesn’t feel exceptional.
It should be noted that Front and Center is available as a CD and DVD, and we are only looking at the CD version here, so perhaps something is lost by not having the accompanying visuals, but considering the performance took place in a more intimate venue it’s difficult to imagine a visual feast was to be had. As a record of capable musicians performing together in a room, as a record of a world-class vocalist performing, Front and Center is right on the money. But it is not an engaging live album. Hart’s more dedicated fans may find nuances and twists in the renditions presented here, but casual listeners aren’t likely to find much to pull them in.