Heart: Red Velvet Car

Ann and Nancy Wilson rock back to the glory days of Heart

Heart was long ago reduced to Ann and Nancy Wilson and support staff; fans that latched onto the band in its first-flush of mid-70s fame may never have made the turn that left Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen and Michael Derosier behind. But new listeners climbed on board for the band’s mid-80s renaissance, and together with a helping of longtime fans, the band sustained into the ‘90s. The sisters worked on side and solo projects, but recaptured the rock ‘n’ roll heart of Heart with 2004’s Jupiter’s Darling. Six years later, with Ann Wilson’s 2007 solo debut in the rear view mirror, the duo is back with Ben Mink in tow as co-producer and co-instrumentalist.

Together with a rhythm section of Ben Smith (drums) and Ric Markmann (bass), Heart is more of a concept of the Wilson sister’s musicality than an on-going concern as a working band. Despite that, the productions sound surprisingly fluid and whole. The songs reach back to the band’s 1970s folk-influenced rock glories, skipping past the sounds of their MTV years. Ann Wilson doesn’t hit the spine-tingling high notes of her younger years, but she’s a cannier singer these days, able to find drama within her limitations and deploying the grit in her voice to convey emotion and passion. Nancy Wilson is still charming as vocalist, singing sweetly on the country-tinged “Hey You.”

The Wilson’s lay down the line on “WTF” with hard-charging guitars and a lyric full of angry recriminations. Ann Wilson’s “what’s the matter with you?” is all the more powerful for its near under-the-breath delivery, and the thick middle part is an interesting layer cake of muddily echoed vocals and sharp, insistent rhythm. The album plays up its dynamic range, slamming rock tunes into the gentle abyss of string-lined blues, building the urgency and tension of songs as they lead to dissipated resolutions. Memories of the Wilson’s childhood Seattle are heard in “Queen City,” and though the album isn’t themed on Autumnal years (Ann turned 60 this year, Nancy 56), nostalgia informs optimistic forward plans as much as it contemplates earlier lessons.

At times the album’s instrumental backings outshine the lyrics, with the rhythm section augmented by great guitar figures and Ann Wilson’s vocals riffing on phrases rather than telling stories. The appreciation of “Sunflower” feels like a reverie that was better left in its personal moment and the fear in “Death Valley” doesn’t have the palpable heat of its subject. Better are the Zeppelin-styled folkloric rock of “Safronia’s Mark” and the emotional closer “Sand.” It’s on the last tune that the Wilsons seem to connect most deeply with the lyrics, with Ann straining into her upper register. This may not be the exuberant first press of a rock band, but the Wilsons still have the inclination to rock, and do so with genuine fire. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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