Heart by Heart

February 5, 2011

There are comebacks and then there are comebacks. Heart’s career was in decline July 6, 1985, when they released their 8th studio album. Millions of albums and four top ten singles later, everything was fine and dandy.

Heart would reach the number one position on the Billboard Magazine Pop Chart and remain on the chart for 92 weeks. It would receive a platinum award for sales four times over. The single, “These Dreams,” would top the singles chart, and “What About Love,” “Never,” and “Nothin’ At All” would all make the top ten.

Heart had been struggling since the departure of guitarist Jeff Fisher. He had been a key component of their early gritty rock/blues sound. Their previous two releases, in retrospect, can be viewed as transition albums, as the band dealt with the loss of two more members, and moved toward a new style and sound.

Heart was a shiny and sophisticated pop/rock album that was very radio friendly. While some long term fans may have lamented their departure from a harder rock sound, they created some of the best pop/rock of the 1980s. Many of the songs still receive radio airplay and are instantly recognizable a quarter of a century later.

The personnel were the same as their previous release. Lead vocalist Ann Wilson, guitarist Nancy Wilson, guitarist/keyboardist Howard Leese, drummer Denny Carmassi, and bassist Mark Andes were all back, which gave the band some needed continuity.

“What About Love” is probably the Heart song I have listened to the most times down through the years. I am always amazed that Ann Wilson could hit some of those high notes. Grace Slick provided some background vocals, and she possesses one of the few voices in rock music that is equal to Ann Wilson’s. When you put the two together, the results are spectacular.

The album’s lead track, “If Looks Could Kill,” was released as the fifth single and stalled at number 54. It has since become a Heart staple. It contains tough girl lyrics set against a rock background.

“These Dreams,” “Never,” and “Nothin’ At All” complete the singles releases. All are power type ballads or a little faster, and they build as they go along, but are ultimately centered on Ann Wilson’s voice.

There are several other very good tracks that tend to go unnoticed. “The Wolf” contains one of the better guitar performances by the duo of Howard Leese and Nancy Wilson. “What He Don’t Know” is another excellent ballad that is somewhat ignored because of what surrounds it. “Shell Shock” is a nice hard rocker and a welcome counterpoint to much of the other material.

One very good decision by the band was to use some outside material. “If Looks Could Kill,” “What About Love,” “These Dreams,” and “Nothin’ At All” did not contain any band member in the writing credits.

Heart remains a career defining album. It is polished and well-crafted rock/pop at its best. Heart’s career flows through this release.

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

Passionworks by Heart

February 3, 2011

Passionworks, released in 1983, was the second of two average, at best, albums by Heart. It followed Private Audition, which had been released the previous year. It only had moderate commercial success, reaching no higher than number 39 on the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart.

Longtime members Steve Fossen and Mike DeRosier had left the band and bassist Mark Andes and drummer Denny Carmassi were their replacements. The Wilson sisters and guitarist/keyboardist Howard Leese were the veterans of the band. Songwriter Sue Ennis returned as the co-writer on nine of the 11 tracks.

This was the last album due to the Epic label. The band would switch to Capital Records for its next release.

Any time an artist releases an album to fulfill a contract, a warning flag is raised. Nearly three decades later, it’s still unknown if Heart was serious about the album’s music or just going through the motions. Whatever their motivation, the group created one of the weaker albums of their career.

The album’s best song was the only one not written by a member of the band, which sort of sums up the overall quality of the release. Jonathan Cain of Journey was the composer of “Allies.” It was an excellent power ballad and a perfect vehicle for Ann Wilson’s voice, which just soars.

There were several tracks that may not have been among Heart’s best, but at least they were listenable. “How Can I Refuse” is acceptable hard rock and was composed by all the band members.

“Blue Guitar” is another rocker, although a bit slower. “Love Mistake” is a ballad where Nancy Wilson takes the vocal lead. The album concludes with the hard rocker “Ambush,” which looked back to some of their better work.

The rest of the songs range from album filler, like “Heavy Heart” and “Language Of Love,” to downright embarrassing, with “Johnny Moon” being one example.

Passionworks was released during August of ’83 and at the time, one would have thought Heart’s career was in decline and in a lot of trouble. Just a few years later, all of that would be forgotten. This is an album for fans who want everything Heart-related.

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

Private Audition by Heart

February 1, 2011

Private Audition, and the release that followed it, Passion Works, are probably the two weakest albums within the Heart catalogue. The group had entered a transition stage in terms of both personnel and musical direction. One long time member had left and two more would leave following this release. They would continue to move toward a slick rock/pop sound that would ultimately propel them to the forefront of American pop music.

Lead guitarist Jeff Fisher had left the band and bassist Steve Fossen and drummer Michael DeRosier would also leave following this album. That would leave Ann and Nancy Wilson, plus multi-instrumentalist Howard Leese as the remaining long term members. It would be one of their least commercially successful albums.

The first track, “City’s Burning,” sums up the release fairly well. Howard Leese and Nancy Wilson are a nice guitar combination but just do not measure up to the previous Fisher/Wilson duo. Ann Wilson has a voice that could sing the phone book and make it listenable, but on this track and a few others, it is just not up to her high standards. This song was written by Sue Ennis and the Wilson sisters, as were eight others, and has an unfinished feel. It is almost good, which is frustrating.

Several other songs fall into the almost good category. “This Man Is Mine” was a hit single, and on this track, Ann Wilson’s voice carries the song. It is the lyrics that make the song a struggle at times. The ballads “Hey Darlin’ Darlin’” and “One Word” are both average at best and have some strings thrown in for good measure but leave one with the feeling they could have been better.

The best track is “Perfect Stranger,” which is a power ballad where everything comes together. Ann Wilson’s voice soars as the track looks ahead to the best of their future.

Private Audition is not the place to start when exploring the music of Heart. The band would adjust and move on to create some of the better music of the 1980s and early 1990s. This one’s for fans who want everything Heart.

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-heart-private-audition/#ixzz1ClMtZIsl

Bebe le Strange by Heart

January 28, 2011

After releasing two albums during 1978, Heart waited until February of 1980 to issue their fifth studio album. Bebe le Strange was their highest charting album to date, reaching number 5 on the Billboard Magazine album charts.

It was their first album without lead guitarist Jeff Fisher, and he was missed. Nancy Wilson and Howard Leese were a competent guitar duo as their electric work together is very good. What was missed, though, was Fisher’s acoustic playing which was always a highlight of Heart’s music.

The Wilson sisters moved front and center. They co-wrote all ten tracks. Songwriter Sue Ennis was back as the co-author of seven songs. She also contributed some guitar and piano work as well. These three women lyricists produced an album of more personal songs, continuing Heart’s transformation toward a female-dominated rock band.

Bebe le Strange may not have yielded any big and memorable hits but it was a very solid release. It was also their last true all-rock album as they soon began moving in a more polished pop/rock direction.

The title song was the first track and set the tone for what was to follow. It was a hard-rocking song with lyrics telling a story from a groupie’s perspective. It was followed by what may be the album’s strongest track, “Down On Me,” which is a nice and slow blues tune.

There are a number of other very good tracks. “Even It Up,” the only single from the album to crack the American Top 40, is a female rock song about a woman who wants more effort from her male partner. “Rockin’ Heaven Down” is a powerful rocker and a fun-filled romp. “Strange Night” has a jam feel which is different from most of Heart’s precisely constructed material. “Sweet Darlin’” is a nice ballad with another brilliant vocal by Ann Wilson.

Bebe le Strange remains a very good if not one of their best albums. It may not be one of their essential albums but it is still a good listen thirty years after its initial release.

Article first published as Music Review: Heart – Bebe le Strange on Blogcritics.

Dog & Butterfly by Heart

January 25, 2011

Heart had completed their contractual obligations to their first label, Mushroom Records, and was now free to continue their recording career unhindered. The result was Dog & Butterfly, which was released October 7, 1978.

Heart was still a band comprised of the Wilson sisters, guitarist/keyboardist Howard Leese, lead guitarist Roger Fisher, bassist Steve Fossen, and drummer Mike DeRosier. The biggest addition to the group was Seattle songwriter Sue Ennis who co-wrote all of the album’s eight tracks. She has now written over 65 songs for the band.

Heart went in two directions with the album, which was clearer on the original vinyl release. The first four songs, which comprised the A-side, went in a rock direction. When you flipped the record over, the B side featured ballads and an acoustic sound. The album title was taken from the rocking “Dog” side and the ballad-oriented “Butterfly” side.

The album’s most famous song was “Straight On,” which was a top 20 hit on the American singles charts. It has a unique beat and Ann Wilson delivers a memorable vocal performance. The lead track, “Cook With Fire,” is a slow-building song that has Zeppelin-like guitars. “High Time” features more nice guitar work by Roger Fisher and Nancy Wilson, further cementing their reputation as one of the 1970’s finest guitar duos.

The ballads are the superior songs and form a nice, tight unit. The title song sets the tone with a nice acoustic guitar opening. “Lighter Touch” is a typical late 1970’s power ballad with piano, strings, and a guitar providing the foundation. The album closer is one of the strongest songs of the band’s career and does not receive enough notice today: “Mistral Wind” is swirling, melodic, and the lyrics tell a visual story. It is a haunting song about a ship sailing toward an unknown destination.

Dog & Butterfly further solidified Heart’s status as one of the more popular rock bands in the United States, with the album receiving a double platinum award for sales. The only downside of its release was that it would be Roger Fisher’s last with the band, and thus his guitar work would be missed. The album remains one of Heart’s better releases.

Article first published as Music Review: Heart – Dog & Butterfly on Blogcritics.

Magazine by Heart

January 24, 2011

Heart’s first album was a smash hit, reaching number seven on the United States album charts and receiving a platinum award for sales. Heart quickly went back into the recording studio and cut five tracks for their second release. All seemed fine until the band asked their Mushroom label for a royalty or pay increase. When the label refused, Heart broke their two-record contract and released their second album on the Portrait label.

Mushroom took the five completed songs, added two live tracks, plus a Canadian single B side and released Magazine during April of 1977. Heart promptly sued, forcing the recall of 50,000 albums. Mushroom then counter-sued Heart, stating they owed the label a second album. Heart agreed to fulfill the contract and tinkered with the album. Magazine was re-released April 22, 1978.

It all ended well for Heart. The album received another platinum award for sales, they fulfilled their contract, and Mushroom went out of business during the early 1980’s.

Heart was still very much a band at this point in their career. In addition to the Wilson sisters, drummer Michael DeRosier, guitarist Roger Fisher, bassist Steve Fossen, and keyboardist Howard Leese were band members for the third release in a row.

Given its history, Magazine turned out to be a credible album. It may not be in the upper echelon of Heart albums, but it was a solid release.

There were five Wilson compositions. “Heartless” was the only single released and it reached number 24. It may not have been the best rock song they ever produced but again it was solid. “Devil Delight” is a nice guitar/vocal tune. Fisher and Nancy Wilson were an underrated 1970’s guitar duo. My favorite track is “Just The Wine” which is a ballad with strings that was a good vehicle for Ann Wilson’s voice.

The three cover songs are interesting. “Without You” was written by Peter Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger but it was Harry Nilsson who had the big hit with it. His version reached number one on the American charts and stayed there for four weeks. Heart’s take on the song is okay but it does not match Nilsson’s. “Mother Earth Blues” is one of the live tracks and has a nice bluesy feel. The other live song was a cover of Kiki Dee’s “I’ve Got The Music In Me” that Heart just rocks through.

Magazine gets lost in the Heart catalogue today as there are a number of better stops. Still, it remains a good listen every once in awhile.

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

What About Love 45 by Heart

January 20, 2011

“What About Love” was issued June 1, 1985 and climbed to number 10 on The United States singles charts.

It was a a nice example of a guitar based balled that was so popular during the 1980’s.

The amazing part of of the song was Ann Wilson’s vocal. She hits notes that very few female singers have ever reached in the past or will ever visit in the future. The vocal at the end of the songs shows her range and clarity to be one of the best in music history.

This is one of the songs I have played over and over again down through the years.

Little Queen by Heart

January 19, 2011

After an auspicious debut album, Heart returned on May 14, 1977 with their sophomore effort. While not having the overall consistency of their first album, it proved to be another strong effort.

When I think of Heart, the image that graces the cover of this album comes to mind. While they were still a complete band, the Wilson sisters were being pushed front and center.

Their first album only contained one song not written by the Wilson sisters. This album had various band members co-writing eight of the ten tracks with the Wilson’s which further emphasized the group nature of early Heart. While the Wilson’s continuing emergence as the focal point of the group and stars in their own right would make the group concept an impossibility in the long run, their early albums benefited from the interaction of its members.

The first side of the original vinyl release contains five tracks as good as any they would produce. Two classic rockers bookend three field and forest songs, for want of a better description. “Barracuda” remains one of Heart’s signature songs and is instantly recognizable to many rock fans over three decades after its release. Roger Fisher’s guitar work is exemplary and Ann Wilson’s vocal is powerful. It is 70’s rock at its best. “Kick It Out” is just a step below and is another hard rocker. The three songs in the middle are folk rock in nature. “Love Alive” features acoustic guitar, flute, and autoharp which leads to a classic rock song. “Sylvan Song” is an instrumental connector with nice mandolin work by Nancy Wilson and Fisher. “Dream Of The Archer” can best be described as a medieval rock sound and is a nice stop in their catalogue.

The last five tracks are more hit or miss. “Treat Me Well’ is a bluesy ballad, which features a rare lead vocal by Nancy Wilson. “Cry To Me” is another nice acoustic ballad. “Say Hello” may not be one of their better creations but it is a fun filled romp.

Little Queen solidified Heart’s reputation and proved they could assemble a second strong album. It has withstood the passage of time and remains an excellent listen.

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

Dreamboat Annie by Heart

January 18, 2011

Heart was officially formed in 1973 when guitarist Roger Fisher, bassist Steve Fossen and vocalist Ann Wilson joined together after being members of various bands during the late sixties and early seventies. Wilson’s sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, joined in 1974. By the time their first album was released a few years later, Howard Leese came aboard as the keyboardist and future full-time drummer Mike DeRosier was featured on several of its tracks.

Their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, was first released in Canada and then in the United States on February 14, 1976. It was an immediate hit, reaching number seven on the United States album charts, and achieved a platinum award for sales.

At this point in its career, Heart was still a band, but the Wilson sisters had already begun to exert control. They co-wrote wrote nine of the 10 tracks on the record and wrote the remaining track with the rest of the band. In addition, Ann, as the lead vocalist, was the centerpiece and main focus of the band.

It was an auspicious first album. The music had a rawer feel than their later polished sound that would propel them to further stardom. It was hard rock with a bluesy sound mixed in. It all added up to one of the better debut albums of the seventies

The album’s first track was the Top 10 hit single “Magic Man.” Ann Wilson’s vocal immediately grabs you. It was instantly recognized that she possessed one of those rare voices that was a gift. The other Top 40 single, “Crazy On You,” was an anxious and urgent rocker. The acoustic intro led to a building electric guitar sound with a repeated riff that continued throughout the song.

There is a lot to like about the album. “Soul Of The Sea” is a nice guitar ballad with strings. “White Lightning and Wine” is a bluesy rocker and a forgotten gem in their large catalog of material. “Sing Child,” which is the only group composition on the album, has a guitar jam in the middle that presents early Heart as a true band. “How Deep It Goes” is another rock/blues outing.

When this debut effort was first released, it seemed as if Heart just appeared on the music scene out of nowhere. Thirty-four years later, the Wilson sisters are now recognized as lasting rock superstars. If you want to explore the music of Heart, Dreamboat Annie is the place to start.

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