Heart: Live at The Clay Center (Concert Review)

Charleston, WV — As the home of Chuck Yeager, West Virginia is accustomed to legends breaking the sound barrier. That was no sonic boom that shook The Clay Center tonight, however, it was the supersonic, aerodynamic voice of Heart’s Ann Wilson….

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The Voice: Sasha Allen Covers Heart

Ever since Carrie Underwood broke out on season four of American Idol with her cover of Heart‘s “Alone,” the song has become a favorite on reality singing competitions. But it’s a great song by a great band, so that’s fine by me. Sasha Allen gave the femme monster ballad an emotive, acoustic soul makeover on The Voice last night. See her impressive cover and the unparalleled original by Heart below…

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Heart: Fanatic

Seminal female rock band Heart just released their fourteenth studio album, Fanatic. The album is somewhat of a companion to their new memoir, Kicking and Dreaming. I had a mixed reaction to the recording. It’s one of those albums that’s torn between magnificence and mediocrity. Thankfully, though, its strengths are far greater than its weaknesses.

Something about the production of the opening title track seems a little off. Neither the instrumentation nor Ann’s vocals are individually bad, but they just don’t mesh as they should. Her vocal track seems to have been laid flatly on top of the arrangement rather than properly mixed with it.

“Dear Old America” is much better, though. The song is a swirling rocker written from perspective of a Marine returning home from war. Said Marine just happens to be the Wilson sisters’ father.

The tepid “Walkin’ Good” seems a wasted duet with Sarah McLachlan. Again I feel the problem lies in the production or mixing. According to the liner notes, Sarah recorded her vocal track and emailed it to be incorporated into the song. As a result, her voice is barely audible in the chorus.

The sultry “Skin and Bones” sets things right again with a bluesy rock style that fits perfectly with both Ann’s rich voice and Nancy’s searing guitar work. It’s smooth sailing after that, as the album’s second half is totally solid and praiseworthy.

The fantastic blues-rock anthem “A Million Miles” was inspired by the traditional folk song “900 Miles.”

The epic “Mashallah!” is the standout with its thunderous rock arrangement and wailing chorus, both of which remind us why Heart used to be nicknamed Little Led Zeppelin.

“59 Crunch,” which the band describes as “psycho surfer,” is another guitar-heavy rock track.

The finale “Corduroy Road” is the perfect marriage of the Heart’s usually dueling rock and acoustic sides.

As a whole, Fanatic doesn’t quite grab me as much as its predecessor, Red Velvet Car. However, the standout tracks mentioned above are among the best Heart’s ever recorded.

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Heart Official Site

Heart: Kicking and Dreaming

Ann and Nancy Wilson, the sisters behind seminal rock band Heart, just released their memoir entitled Kicking and Dreaming. In it, the sisters share details of their childhood, tumultous rise to fame in the 1970s, embarrassing big-haired success in the ’80s, decline of their popularity in the ’90s, various side projects since then, upcoming album, Fanatic, and all the celebrities they’ve met along the way. In addition to traditional book formats, the memoir is also available as an enhanced ebook with exclusive video content and a new, original song.

We didn’t want to be Beatle girlfriends. We wanted to be Beatles.

Reading through the Wilson family’s early years wasn’t all that interesting to me, but did provide some insight into the sisters’ bond and motivations. More engaging is reading of a young Ann Wilson’s struggles with weight and external pressure to lose it – from a doctor’s crazy diet to the heart-breaking description of elephant valentines and more blatant bullying from vicious classmates.

From their first live performance driving churchgoers from their pews with covers of Elvis and The Doors to their defiant anti-disco set at a popular ’70s club, Heart’s beginnings were more punk than you’d expect.

Throughout their career, the sisters have been plagued by an outrageous amount of sexism (including from their record labels and other bands) as well as a plethora of condescending and sometimes outright insulting questions and/or labels for being “Women Who Rock.”

Also chronicled is the insane amount of judgement Ann received for her weight throughout their career, even when she was at her skinniest in the 70’s. I remember even as a kid wondering why, when she was obviously the lead singer, Ann was relegated to the background in so many of the band’s videos. It’s the same reason Amanda Palmer’s old label pressured her to reshoot her “Leeds United” video, because they said she “looked fat,” and why Adele is still criticized for weight despite her success. It’s really why modern music is in the appalling state that it’s in. The music industry prefers model thin props over actual talent.

The sisters also dish the dirt on bands they toured with back in the day and other scandalous celebrity encounters, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Van Halen, Stevie Nicks, Queen, Sandra Bernhard, Tom Cruise, Courtney Love, The Rolling Stones, Bono and Steve Jobs.

They candidly address their struggles with drug abuse and alcoholism, Ann’s on-stage panic attacks at the height of their popularity, and Nancy’s sweet, shy (and ultimately doomed) romance with director Cameron Crowe.

Despite such difficulties, though, the Wilson sisters never seem to let external influences slow them down or weaken their love of making music.

They also share their surprising connection to the early ’90s grunge scene and association with bands like Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Soundgarden. Most striking (other than Ann’s unexpectedly close friendship with Jerry Cantrell) was Nancy’s comment on how Andy Wood’s death didn’t deter his crowd from drug use: “Stardom had yet to happen to the class of grunge. Nothing had been gained, so many didn’t understand what could be lost.

And, of course, the Wilsons tell the stories behind all of their big hits – from “Magic Man” and “Barracuda” to “These Dreams” and “Alone.”

For the most part I found it an interesting and seemingly genuine read, but I do wish the timeline was more evenly distributed throughout the book. Most of the book deals with their childhood and rise to fame in the ’70s, while they cram the last three decades into the final fourth of the book. Still, it’s an intriguing read for any Heart fan. Which I’ve been for most of my life.

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Heart Official Site

Heart: Red Velvet Car

Heart returns on August 31st with Red Velvet Car, their first new studio album in six years. If you’ve never heard Heart’s music or you’ve written them off as an ’80s novelty act, I urge you to track down classic songs like “Barracuda,” “Crazy on You,” “Alone,” “(Up On) Cherry Blossom Road,” and pretty much the entire Dreamboat Annie album. Then pre-order Red Velvet Car, because the Wilson sisters are back and stronger than ever.

This time around Heart took a step back from the pop-rock endeavors of recent decades in favor of a multi-instrumental style. In addition to her signature guitar, Nancy Wilson and producer Ben Mink tried their hands at mandolin, dobro, banjo, fiddle, viola, cello and autoharp. The result is a tightly woven tapestry of hard rock riffs and multi-layered acoustics reminiscent of Heart’s 1970s catalogue.

Written as a “cautionary tale for a young woman on the red carpet,”, the opener “There You Go” makes fine use of the band’s new multi-instrumental arsenal with a bluesy rumble and stomp.

“WTF” could use a better title, but otherwise the thunderous rock song is a perfect display of Ann’s astounding vocal power and Nancy’s searing guitar riffs. Then the title track stirs, slides, and retracts like a slinky Western sidewinder tempered with airy strings and acoustics.

The standout track “Wheels” simmers with a chasmic bass line and Ann’s deep, echoing voice. Twenty years in the making, the song was well worth the wait.

When I read in the press release that producer Mink (who worked with Ann Wilson on her solo album Hope & Glory) asked Ann to “hold back” on her vocals, I was a little worried. Ann’s unearthly howl has always been Heart’s greatest strength. I would have liked to hear her wail a bit more on the new album, but overall I think the restraint worked well for this particular collection. Though I do hope the next release sets her mighty pipes loose again.

Nancy takes lead vocal on the pretty love song “Hey You” and again on the sultry ballad “Sunflower.” I was surprised to learn that Nancy wrote the latter as an ode to her sister since it sounds like a summer of love anthem.

Most bands place their weakest tracks at the end of their albums, but Heart saves one of their best for the finale. “Sand” was originally recorded by the Wilson sisters as their late ’90s acoustic incarnation The Lovemongers. The layering of Ann’s robust vocals over a stripped down acoustic arrangement in this new version hints at Led Zeppelin’s “Going To California.” The Lovemongers’ cover of Zep’s “The Battle of Evermore” and Ann’s solo take on “Immigrant Song” have obviously had a positive influence on Heart’s own compositions.

The album isn’t without its flaws, but they are few and far between. Red Velvet Car is Heart’s most substantial and artistic effort since Dreamboat Annie.

I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples at the links below.

Buy @ Amazon

Note: According to Heart’s official site, you can receive $1 off your Amazon Pre-order by entering promo code REDCAR10.

Heart (not yet available)

Heart Official Site