Fanatic by Heart

November 7, 2012

Heart has had quite a year. They released a career-spanning box set, Strange Euphoria, which preceded a memoir by band leaders Ann and Nancy Wilson, Kicking and Dreaming. To top it off, earlier this month they returned with their 14th studio album, Fanatic.

They are now just about 40 years into a career that has seen them attain huge commercial success. They made a wise decision to return to their hard rocking roots. They have moved away from the polished pop rock sound that produced their biggest hit singles and have returned to basics. As such, they have created an album where the songs flow into each other and form a cohesive whole.

The two constants in the band have always been vocalist Ann Wilson and guitarist Nancy Wilson. The core backing band for the album was their regular drummer Ben Smith, guitarist Ben Mink, and bassist Rick Markmann. Mink served as the producer for the second album in a row and did a much better job than on 2010s Red Velvet Car as he kept the band focused and the music tight. He also co-wrote all 10 tracks with the Wilson sisters. Ann Wilson has always possessed one of the most powerful and clearest voices in rock music and it shows little wear after four decades of fronting one of music’s premier bands.

The music uses a hard rock foundation as it moves outward in a number of directions. The have always admired Led Zeppelin and here they channel their sound with “Corduroy Road.” “Rock Deep (America)” is an old-fashioned rock romp. “Walkin’ Good” unites the voices of Nancy Wilson and Sarah McLachlan. The title track presents the passion that the Wilson sisters have brought to their work for decades.

Perhaps the most affecting track is the patriotic “Dear Old America,” which is built on the post-war memories of their father. The use of strings gives it a very poignant feel.

Fanatic’s biggest surprise is the band’s return to their past. If you are one of the best band’s in rock music and want to model an album after someone, why not choose yourself. It is a worthy addition to their legacy.

Article first published as Music Review: Heart – Fanatic on Blogcritics.


Strange Euphoria (3 CD + 1 DVD Box Set) by Heart

June 25, 2012

There have probably been thousands of box sets released during the last three decades. Heart has taken the road less traveled with their Strange Euphoria set. It is not just a regurgitation of their greatest hits, but also includes some deep album cuts and a number of true rarities. It you just want their best or most popular tunes, there are a number of greatest hits sets available. If you are a hardcore fan of the band or want to dig a little deeper into their history, then this is a set worth owning.

The career of Heart, with Ann and Nancy Wilson, has reached the four decade mark. They have released 13 studio albums and over a dozen live and compilation albums. Strange Euphoria represents the first time the Wilson sisters have opened up the vaults for demos and obscure material. The set also includes song-by-song annotations, anecdotes, and commentary by the Wilson sisters.

Disc one contains six previously unreleased demos and two early live performances. “Magic Man” is almost like a folk song and it’s interesting to compare it to what it would eventually become. “Crazy On You” contains some of the best acoustic guitar playing of Nancy Wilson’s career and this demo makes it available for the first time. The acoustic demo of “Dog & Butterfly” is another early song that serves as a history lesson for the version that would finally be released.

Unreleased live versions of “White Lightning and Wine” and “Barracuda” are included. The first was one of the foundations of their early concerts as it contained serious lyrics encased in music that makes you want to get up and dance.

The first track is “Through Eyes And Glass” by Ann Wilson & The Daybreaks. It was Ann and Nancy’s first original recorded song, released on the small Topaz label in 1968. It may have not changed the music world, but it is historic as it catches the Wilson sisters at the beginning of their career.

Disc two offers up some familiar and some obscure. Well known songs such as “Bebe le Strange,” “Even It Up,” “These Dreams,” and “Alone” follow Heart’s middle career transition from hard rock to a smoother brand of music that would sell tens of millions of albums and singles. The most unique track is a live version of “Never” with John Paul Jones. This simple and almost unplugged version also features Jones lending a hand on the mandolin.

Disc three contains three songs by the Wilson sisters’ side group, The Lovemongers. It was a different sound and two tracks from their Whirlygig album, “Kiss” and “Sand” are included. The first was left out of the Meg Ryan movie French Kiss and the second was later included on Heart’s 2010 album Red Velvet Car. They present the gentle side of the Wilson sisters. “Friend Meets Friend” is a rare unreleased live Lovemongers track.

The oddest track in the set may be the unreleased demo version of “Boppy’s Back.” It was a tongue in cheek acoustic tale about Ann Wilson’s dog.

The accompanying DVD is a live performance from February-March, 1976, recorded for KWSU, Washington State University. The ten song, 57 minute performance catches the band just after the release of Dreamboat Annie. They are in their developmental phase as a band, but Ann Wilson’s voice still soars on such songs as “Crazy On You,” ”Soul Of The Sea,” “Magic Man,” “Silver Wheels,”, “Devil Delight,” and “Heartless.”

Strange Euphoria is an essential release for Heart fans as 20 of the 51 tracks (not counting the DVD) are previously unreleased. It includes material from all 13 of their studio albums and makes for an interesting and career-spanning listen.

Article first published as Music Review: Heart – Strange Euphoria [3 CD + 1 DVD Box Set] on Blogcritics.


Magic Man 45 by Heart

February 5, 2012

Vocalist Ann Wislon joined the band, “The Army,” during 1970. They became White Heart in 1972 and simply Heart during 1974. Her guitarist sister Namcy joined shortly after. They are now revered as one of the classic bands in rock history.

“Magic Man” was their second single release. It was gritty and hard rock ‘n’ roll. Released July 17, 1976, it reached number nine on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

Heart is still very active on the concert circuit and “Magic Man” remains an important part of their act.


Night At Sky Church (DVD) by Heart

April 16, 2011

Heart, with the Wilson sisters, has been rocking away for about four decades. Their 2010 album release, Red Velvet Car, was a commercial success, reaching number 10 on the American album charts. It was a nice return to their hard rock/acoustic roots. They have now sold in excess of 35 million albums worldwide.

Heart brought their 2010 tour into their hometown of Seattle for a performance at the Experience Music Project, Seattle’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Museum, on March 5, 2010. The cameras were rolling as Heart performed material from all parts of their career. Night At Sky Church is a DVD chronicle of the concert. While I am reviewing the regular DVD, it has also been issued in the Blu-ray format.

The band was fronted, as usual, by lead vocalist Ann Wilson and guitarist Nancy Wilson. The rest of the current touring band consisted of guitarist Craig Bartock, keyboardist Debbie Shair, bassist Kristian Attard, and drummer Ben Smith. Alison Krauss was on hand for three tracks as a guest performer.

First the bad news; the band is not as tight as it has been in the past. The jam on the opening “Barracuda,” never really takes off and ultimately breaks down. The riffing on “Crazy On You” is a tad off kilter. There is little or no interaction with the audience, which would have added some personality to the performance. Having said that; this is a complete concert and not a compilation of live tracks, so you get what was actually performed, which includes the good and the bad. This type of live album has always been my preference.

On the other hand there is a lot to like about this performance. The DVD has a nice clarity and the camera angles present the concert in an attractive manner. The choice of material is strong and fits together well as it covers many of their hits, five tracks from their latest album, plus a few album tracks thrown in for good measure. The highlight of any Heart recording is Ann Wilson’s voice, which remains one of the best in rock/pop music history.

It’s always nice to hear Heart perform some of their classics. Here they shine on “Never,” “Straight On,” “These Dreams,” “What About Love,” “Alone,” and “Crazy On You.” It was also a wise decision to intersperse some of their recent material among the old, such as “Hey You,” “Red Velvet Car,” and “Sand.”

Alison Krauss guests, with vocals and fiddle, on “These Dreams,” “Safronia’s Mark,” and “Your Long Journey.” She proves to be a good match for the Wilson sisters.

Night At Sky Church presents the modern Heart well. There may be a few glitches along the way, but overall it is a well-paced and ultimately satisfying concert experience. It is sure to please the many fans of the band.

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Article first published as Music DVD Review: Heart – Night At Sky Church on Blogcritics.


Red Velvet Car by Heart

February 19, 2011

Red Velvet Car was released August 31, 2010, and is Heart’s last studio album to date. It was the group’s most successful release in two decades, as it reached number 10 on the Billboard Magazine Album Pop Chart.

The band consisted of vocalist Ann Wilson, guitarist/vocalist Nancy Wilson, guitarist/keyboardist Ben Mink, dobro player Craig Bartuck, bassist Ric Markmann, and drummer Ben Smith. Mink also produced the album.

The band continued its recent trend of composing its own material. The Wilson sisters co-wrote all of the tracks, but were joined by Mink for six songs and Bartock for four of them. Even old writing partner Sue Ennis lent a hand on two of the tracks.

It was another solid album of mostly guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll.

My only complaint was the use of bonus tracks, which varied by country or where you purchased the album. If you made the purchase at Target; add two songs. If you downloaded it in Canada, add two tracks, but if you bought it in a Canadian store, add one track. The Japan download added three. I say just release all of the songs together, but that’s just me.

There were three standout tracks. “WTF” was released as a single and received considerable airplay. The group cranked up their guitars and rocked like the Heart of old.

“There You Go” is one of the band’s most sophisticated compositions. The music meanders with some twists and turns, yet always returns to the melody.

The best of the lot was “Safronia’s Mark,” which finds Heart at its best. It is old school rock ‘n’ roll with a mandolin sound thrown in for good measure. It contains some witty and biting lyrics, and Ann Wilson’s voice remains one of the best in rock music.

Two other tracks stand out. “Death Valley” has an ominous feel as it churns along, and “Wheels” is an air guitarist’s delight.

The best of the bonus tracks, if you are near a Target store or plan a visit to Canada, is “In The Cool,” which is one of those beautiful songs that Heart was so good at producing.

Red Velvet Car is a solid and simple album which enabled the band to return to its roots. It finds Heart rocking on into the 21st century.

Article first published as Music Review: Heart – Red Velvet Car on Blogcritics.


Jupiters Darling by Heart

February 18, 2011

It had been 11 years since Heart had released their last studio album. Their fans had to make due with live and compilation releases. They finally released Jupiters Darling, June 22, 2004. It would be the least commercially successful album of their career, reaching only number 94 on the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart.

Jupiters Darling can best be described as a solid, rock album, and it probably deserved a better reception. It was well produced, but was not overly slick or polished. The music ran the gamut from acoustic, to ballads, too hard, bone crunching rock.

The Wilson sisters wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks except one. Longtime band members Howard Leese and Danny Carmassi had both departed. Guitarist/keyboardist Craig Bartock was an important new member as he co-wrote 13 of the tracks. The other new members were keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, bassist Mike Inez, and drummer/percussionist Ben Smith.

The album is what it is; competent rock ‘n’ roll with Ann Wilson’s voice soaring over the top. The albums rock nature may be due to Nancy Wilson’s taking more of a leadership role. Nancy takes the vocal lead on several of the tracks. She is an excellent vocalist in her own right, but happens to be in a band with one of the best vocalists in rock history, who also happens to be her sister. She possesses a beautiful voice, but her sister has a power, clarity, and an edginess that has rarely been equaled. Still, her songwriting and singing leave a lasting imprint on the music. She also was the album’s sole producer.

“Vainglorious” is out of the Led Zeppelin school of rock. It is a churning fusion of rock and blues that sweeps over you in waves.

On the lighter side of the rock coin is “Things,” which has an acoustic, folk feel with a gentle Nancy Wilson vocal.

There are a number of other highlights. “I Need The Rain” is both haunting and poignant. It makes use of a mandolin sound and features another Nancy vocal. Ann Wilson kicks her voice into high gear with “Down The Nile,” which is both powerful and seductive. There is the usual selection of Heart ballads. “The Perfect Goodbye” is very good and “Enough,” complete with flutes is better. Few singers can sing a building ballad like Ann Wilson.

Jupiters Darling is an often underappreciated release as the album is probably better than the sum of its parts. What it did prove was that Heart was still rocking in the new millennium.

Article first published as Music Review: Heart – Jupiters Darling on Blogcritics.


Desire Walks On by Heart

February 14, 2011

Heart released Desire Walks On November 16, 1993. It was a return to a guitar-based-rock sound after three albums of slick pop/rock, which had sold millions of copies and enabled Heart to become one of the most successful bands in the world. This return to their old style coincided with the band members taking over a majority of the writing chores again. While the results were not as commercially successful as their previous three releases, it was still a solid release and a welcome return of the early Heart.

Longtime bassist Mark Andes had left the group but the core of lead vocalist Ann Wilson, guitarist Nancy Wilson, guitarist Howard Leese, and drummer Danny Carmassi remained intact. John Purdell provided the toned-down keyboards and Schuyler Dean played bass.

The first two songs blast out of the gate with chugging guitars and Ann’s soaring vocals. “Back On Black II” demonstrated that the hard-rocking Heart was back. “Back To Avalon” may have been a little more mellow, but it was nice, uptempo rock.

There are two excellent ballads in the Heart tradition. “The Woman In Me” is the best of the pair, as it features an emotional and sultry vocal by Ann. “Anything Is Possible” is a building power ballad, which Heart was so good at creating.

There are several other first-rate tracks. “Rage” is as hard as Heart rocks. It is a pulsating and pounding guitar attack that carries Ann’s voice along with it. “Voodoo Doll” is dark, progressive, and odd; yet has an appeal to it by virtue of the fact it is different from most of what Heart had released. The most interesting track is the Bob Dylan tune, “Ring Them Bells,” on which Ann duets with Layne Staley of Alice In Chains. It is a pairing that doesn’t look good on paper but sounds fine. Her clear vocal matches well with his haunting voice to create a memorable mix.

Desire Walks On may not be Heart’s best album, but it contains a lot of good rock ‘n’ roll. It is also a cohesive one as the tracks fit together well. And while it often does not receive enough credit, it holds up well and remains a good listen. This would be Heart’s last studio album for 11

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