09/11/2013 08:30 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

Amy Winehouse Is Gone. Beth Hart Is Here, Loud and Triumphant

Amy Winehouse had 14 tattoos. She smoked crack cocaine and took heroin. She was bulimic. As her best known song announced, "I don't want to go to rehab." And she didn't. She died in 2011, aged 27.

The tragedy and squalor of her life make it hard to remember that Amy Winehouse was the greatest female singer of the decade.

Beth Hart has 9 tattoos. She started drinking as a kid; at 13, she spent a day at Alcoholics Anonymous. On the verge of a great career --- she portrayed Janis Joplin in the musical "Love, Janis" --- she moved on to drugs. She didn't want to go to rehab. She wanted to die. She had a seizure. Her husband lay on top of her, crying. Only then did something shift for her: "I realized, 'This is an amazing person that I have in my life and he loves me. That means there must be something good inside of me.'"

The next day, she went into rehab.

Beth Hart has been sober for a decade now. So when I say that she is the next Amy Winehouse, I mean it in the best possible way: She has a talent with no ceiling. None. I wish I could see her tonight. I will make do --- early and often --- with her astonishing, thrilling, satisfying-on-many-levels CD, "Bang Bang Boom Boom."

A large claim. So I ask you to watch just the first 2:15 of Beth doing the Etta James classic, "I'd Rather Go Blind," at the Kennedy Center honors.

Let me set the scene. Jeff Beck, the great guitarist, had seen Beth sing a few months earlier. She was huge in Europe, small here --- her ancient history scared record companies away. No matter, he invited her to sing before the President and Mrs. Obama, a distinguished audience and, on television, the world. Her mission: honor Buddy Guy.

Beth comes onstage. Her name means nothing; only insiders know her. "I looked up, saw Buddy up there and just tried to sing it to him." In the video, she sings one line. Then the director cuts to Buddy Guy's face. And stays on it. Because it's always a moment to savor when a legend gets blown away.

In past CDs, Beth Hart has channeled Joplin, Aretha, Etta, Billie Holiday, Otis Redding. On this one, in her notes, she also acknowledges "the great Amy Winehouse." Not doomed Amy, but the Amy who, in her music, hoped love would redeem her. And so, on "Bang Bang," her songs sometimes even touch on... happiness. But really, the words don't matter much. The performance is.Innovation? Not her thing. Passion is. Rage. Abject, on her knees, devotion. Think: If Janis Joplin could sing on key....

The songs have a big range. You'll hear echoes of Billie, Janis, Etta, Fiona Apple. But what you'll hear in pretty much every song is drama. Don't be fooled by a soft, thoughtful opening --- this woman will soon be spitting and foaming. Take another piece of your heart? That's all she does. Like this:

This is your aerobics music. Your party music. Your dance in the dark when you're loaded moment. Your blues. Your necessary music.

"I want to know love before I die," she sings. "Open the window."

She sure has.

[Cross-posted from]