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.