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Classic Rock News And Views
November 8, 2012
Anyone wanting the full story on the lives of Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson can find pretty much all of it within the pages of their recently-released book, Kicking & Dreaming. The format of the book is a bit different since each of the sisters took turns authoring their own passages throughout the book with a few sections authored by guests such as their sister Lynn and close friend Sue Ennis. In addition, former Heart managers, producers and band members also got a chance to make their contributions.
This is the story of the Wilson sisters and their journey with Heart from the very beginning. Ann and Nancy seem to hold very little back in this book as they reveal difficult childhood experiences in school and the many relocations they endured as children of a military man. With their decades-long reputation as two of music’s hardest-rocking women, who would have imagined Ann Wilson as a shy, stammering schoolgirl? A far cry from the legendary rock icon she eventually became. Who knows how many girls she inspired to seek the best teachers to school them in the art of guitar playing or singing?
It’s difficult to overestimate the influence The Beatles had on Ann and Nancy Wilson. In the book, the Nancy Wilson describes it this way: “The Ninth day of February of 1964, a lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck us. We had our life before February 9, and we had our life after.”
Like so many others caught up in the frenzy over the arrival of these long-haired British rockers, Ann and Nancy Wilson first saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. The difference between the Wilson sisters and most other adoring female fans is that they were not interested in being married to one of The Beatles – they were more interested in being The Beatles. The rest, as they say, is history.
As bona fide rock stars, Ann and Nancy Wilson has occasion to rub elbows with some of the music industries most iconic personalities. In some instances they sound as if they were just as star-struck as a fan on the street, driving home the fact that rock stars, movie stars and other celebrities are just human beings just like the rest of us.
Kicking & Dreaming isn’t without what some might consider indiscrete revelations. Ann and Nancy Wilson talk openly about some of their personal relationships. At times Kicking & Dreaming reads like a tell-all book that doesn’t hold back a whole lot. I admit to being a bit surprised by some of their revelations but at the same time, I admire the honesty and courage it must have taken to tell it like it is.
As two of rock’s most-recognized figures, Ann and Nancy Wilson have enjoyed tremendous success and the rewards that come with it. What’s lesser known is the story of their humble beginnings, their ups and downs with Heart through the decades and the challenges they met head on and overcame.
For dedicated Heart fans, Kicking & Dreaming is a must-read. Not only does it chronicle the creation and evolution of Heart but it also tells the story of Ann and Nancy Wilson in great detail. As someone who does not know either of them personally, it’s not possible for me to know what may have been left out of the book, but if I had to make a guess, I’d say very little.
June 8, 2012
Heart’s brand-new box set, Strange Euphoria is a journey that takes fans four decades back through the group’s evolution with a lot of emphasis on their early work and featuring previously unreleased demo recordings and other gems that give this release an almost “new album” feel. Twenty of the fifty-one tracks on the set’s three CDs were previously unreleased.
As I put the first CD into the player, I was struck by the presence of Ann Wilson’s voice. Unlike a lot of other recordings where the vocals tend to get a bit lost among the other instruments at times, Ann’s voice with acoustic accompaniment came through as clear as I can ever recall hearing on any Heart album. Say what you want to about recording technology from the 1970’s, but these early recordings sound great.
Perhaps it had more to do with youthful ambition and ability than it did with the recording equipment. That first song, “Through Eyes & Glass,” was the first recording Ann and Nancy had ever completed in an actual recording studio and was possible only because the group they had been working with had some studio time left over after finishing their own tracks that day and allowed the sisters to use up the remaining time.
Although there are a number of songs that fans have never heard, there’s no mistaking who you’re listening to. Although I wish to take nothing away from Ann Wilson’s current ability as a singer, not one of us can escape the slow decline that accompanies us into our later years. Hearing her singing “new” material when she was 19 years old is like hearing Ann Wilson reborn.
There’s no denying that years of experience has allowed her to perfect her vocal technique and take her talent to its amazing limits, but there’s a raw element that reveals itself in some of these early recordings that makes clear the fact that these recordings were made at a certain time and at a certain place and that those moments can never be replicated. Those of us that have drifted into middle age realize now, more than ever, that we shall never be 19 again. Perhaps that realization becomes even more vivid as time goes on. I suppose I’ll have to wait and see.
The accompanying booklet sheds a little light on each recording with commentary from both Ann and Nancy which reveal bits and pieces that help provide answers to questions that might have been lingering in the minds of many fans, although I don’t doubt that there are a number of dedicated fans who may have figured many of these things out on their own. There are those of us that just want to rock with the music and there are those of us that want to dig deeper and try to understand the story the song is telling. I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle although I probably lean a bit towards the former.
The DVD that’s included with this box set is another rare treat. Recorded during February and March of 1976, it showcases the group as they perform live at Washington State University. This is indeed early Heart and the somewhat awkward nature of Ann Wilson’s stage presence when she addresses the audience makes it clear that this is not the seasoned group of rockers that they ultimately evolved into. Indeed, although some of the dialog is a little awkward and tentative, it’s got an endearing quality to it as well.
Although the group likely faced a hard road ahead of them, it’s so refreshing to see the purity of a young and perhaps idealistic group who wanted to make great music for people. It’s quite easy to see for those of us not blinded by greed or the desire to be otherwise “rewarded” for offering contracts or other incentives to a new band trying to break onto the scene. I’m not privy to any specifics regarding the barriers that stood between the Wilson Sisters and success, but there are numerous clues that they have provided through their music – the medium described as “intimate, small conversations between Ann and Nancy and their audience.” Sometimes it ain’t hard to read between the lines.
If it is not abundantly clear by now, I’m pretty enamored with this box set. As a fan since the release of Dreamboat Annie in 1976, listening to the music, seeing the photos and reading the comments takes me back and spawns memories of various experiences in my own life that were being played out at the time. You can’t help but feel that Ann and Nancy Wilson are like old friends in some sense. They’ve always been as close as a turntable, CD player or MP3 file for all those years. They’ve been through a lot since those early day and so have their fans.
It’s pretty much a no-brainer at this point. If you’re a Heart fan – and particularly if you have been a Heart fan from the beginning – the $35 or so dollars you’ll drop for this box set is well worth it. I suppose it might be wise to include a disclaimer during troubled economic times like these and say something like: If you can afford it, it’s well worth grabbing a copy. At any rate, Amazon has it, along with just about everything else.
August 2, 2010
Heart’s forthcoming album, Red Velvet Car, is being promoted as “the most personal and powerful work yet from Ann and Nancy Wilson.” Perhaps I’m stuck in the past – which may not be a bad place to be these days – but I don’t think Heart will ever top their debut Dreamboat Annie. An album that remains on my list of all-time favorite albums. That’s not to dismiss their latest effort, in fact, it’s actually quite good.
I suppose many a reader would rather get beyond geezer reminiscences and get on with this latest release from Heart – the first studio album since 2004’s Jupiter’s Darling, which was not able to attain the commercial success they had enjoyed with previous releases.
Producer Ben Mink, who worked with Ann Wilson on her 2007 solo album Hope & Glory, reportedly formed an immediate musical connection with Nancy Wilson, and for the first time in her career, sister Ann was encouraged by Mink to “hold back” a bit vocally.
“It’s not that he wants me to hold back the intensity, but instead to explore what’s inside of me,” Wilson says. For me the “holding back” factor was evident from the get-go. Track 1, “There You Go,” reveals an Ann Wilson that sounds more mellow than what we might be accustomed to coming from one of the rock world’s true powerhouse female vocalists.
Despite the mellow introduction to this album, any speculation about Heart’s inability to rock is quickly put to rest with “WTF,”brings us back to the Heart that reminds me more of “Barracuda” or “Even It Up,” although in contrast to those two Heart classics, the sentiment behind this one is decidedly introspective, being described by Ann Wilson as “…kind of the way you talk to yourself.”
The title track finds itself in position three and backs the tempo down again with a emotional passage that is accompanied by evocative lyrics that make it easy to visualize your way through the story that is woven into this relatively short, but powerful song. This one brings home the words of of Nancy Wilson who said, “There’s not an inauthentic, fictitious or posing bone in the body of this album.”
“Queen City” is a tribute to the Wilson sister’s home town of Seattle, Washington. This one may be my least-favorite track on the album. It’s has a catchy foot-tapping quality to it, but for me it just didn’t seem to have the same level of emotion and sincerity of the other tracks.
It’s clear that the group has indulged their acoustic side during the making of Red Velvet Car. Track six is a good example, and has a more light-hearted feel to it compared to some of the other songs in the album, but that may not be what was intended, and may be the result of a superficial interpretation on may part. Lyrically, it is a song that took ten years for Nancy Wilson to complete, and although it there is a positive element to it, it was described by Nancy Wilson as “really quite heartbreaking.”
Heart fans may want my head on a platter over this one, but some of the subtleties in “Wheels” remind me of something Rush might have come up with. Mink has worked with Rush, and whether that has anything to do with anything is not known to me. However, any comparisons between Heart and Rush should not be considered anything by complimentary coming from me. Similarities can be found everywhere and are probably more likely a result of coincidence rather than influence.
The remaining tracks stay true to the decidedly mellow, acoustic feel that this album has. There is no “Magic Man” or “Magazine” on this album, but perhaps that is just a reflection of who and what Heart is today, and it’s certainly not a bad thing.
Perhaps it is best summed up by Ann Wilson herself: “Here we are at this point in the band’s history and just like with any lifespan, the longer you love, the longer things look in back of you — and shorter in front of you too. That sense of perspective means that you’re much less likely to want to waste any time at all. So there’s a even greater sense of mortality, of the stakes involved here and an even stronger desire to make every moment on the album matter.”
Red Velvet Car may not be the kind of hard-rocking album that we remember from the band’s early years, but I think it’s a worthy representation of how the Wilson sisters have matured and seen their priorities change through the years.
It may be easier for us who are a bit closer in age to Ann and Nancy Wilson to appreciate the journey that has led them to Red Velvet Car, but at the same time, it’s a release that should please – and perhaps even surprise – Heart fans of all age groups.
Red Velvet Car is set for release on August 31st, and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
December 3, 2009
Classic rock powerhouse Heart is embracing their roots. In this case, that means plans for their next album are taking them back to the days before all-things-digital became the norm.
Although the group has been touring for a while, they have also been logging some studio time in between dates to work on a new album, which is being produced by Ben Mink. Mink also worked with lead singer Ann Wilson on her solo album Hope & Glory.
Little is known about the new album beyond what Nancy Wilson recently revealed to Spinner. There are said to be ten songs pretty well finished up, with a couple more to work out before the album is completed. The group hopes to release it in the spring, but what’s most interesting is Wilson’s statement revealing that “We’ve been approaching it on a really human level. There’s not a digital construct anywhere.”
In addition, the recording is a return to a more old school methodology where all of the musicians are playing at the same time in the same space. “We are putting up baffles and playing together at the same time: drums, bass and guitars, all at once, in the same room, looking at each other and jiving off each other, so that it’s really a conversation in process,” Wilson adds.
Hearing this news can really raise expectations for fans like myself who consider Heart’s debut album, Dreamboat Annie one of the greatest rock albums of all time. That’s due, in part, to the quality of the recording, which, needless to say was 100% analog back on the mid-1970’s. It was recorded on an old Ampex MM1000 16-track tape machine (for the engineering geeks out there), which the technical crew somehow coaxed an astoundingly beautiful mix from.
For my money, it’s one of the best recordings I have ever heard, and I’m hoping that the folks in the control room can at least come close to the exemplary work done by Patrick Collins and Rofl Henneman, who are credited for the mastering and engineering on Dreamboat Annie.
If I may borrow some terminology from the world of sports, I envision my Heart “fantasy band” in the studio with some or all of the original musicians from the early days, with the result being something that really sounds like material from the 1970’s version of the group.
That may be the sound they are shooting for with this new album, and I’d love for them to hit the bull’s-eye, but as other enduring groups have discovered, the old magic can be very elusive. That is especially true when only two original members remain in the group.
I don’t want to come across as a wet blanket, but even though this analog-only thing sounds like a cool idea, for this fan, Heart will always be that group that blew my mind with Dreamboat Annie; not the band I’ve seen and heard more recently which the enormously talented Wilson sisters have been fronting.
I’m content to leave it at that. I know there are still legions of loyal fans out there who still love the group in its current form, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt and wrap this up by saying I will let the new album speak for itself when it is released.
June 24, 2009
You may know them as the rocking sisters of the veteran rock act Heart, but sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson are set to make a name for themselves as authors as well. They are in the process of finishing up work on a children’s book that is based on their 1978 album Dog & Butterfly. Admittedly not one of my favorite Heart albums, but it does sound like a great inspiration for a children’s book.
Ann and Nancy Wilson may be writing a book, but that does not mean they have any career-changing plans. They are also in the process of working on a new album, although they are uncertain about its completion date.
“We’re recording with just a real woodshed, small acoustic element, people playing together at the same time and (in) the same room — like what they used to call a hootenanny,” Nancy Wilson says. “There’s no ProTools feel to it at all. We’re just sitting around playing guitars together and going for a performance that is on the spot.”
That’s the kind of talk I lake to hear coming from Heart, since I think that is the kind of environment where they really shine. Their 1976 album, Dreamboat Annie, which remains one of my favorite albums of all time, was recorded on a 16-track Ampex tape machine coupled with a used tube-driven console that was purchased from United Studios who was in the process of upgrading their own consoles to the newer solid-state versions at the time.
The sound they coaxed out of that old set-up over thirty years ago amazes me to this day. One of the best-sounding albums I have ever heard. That’s what makes Wilson’s comments about keeping the process of recording the new album simple so intriguing.
Returning to the present day and getting back to the new album, Nancy Wilson reports that they have about eight songs that they are really pleased with and that three basic tracks have been recorded so far. It’s interesting to note that in addition to recording in Los Angeles, some recording has been done in various hotel rooms during the course of the group’s tours. I’m very interested to find out what a new Heart album will sound like.
Some of the material from the new album may be debuted live this summer. Heart is scheduled for a number of dates into September, including nine shows they are opening for Journey.
Thanks to Billboard for the news.