Red Velvet Car

Heart

Sony Legacy, 2010

http://www.heart-music.com/

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/27/2010

Over the years, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have never been shy about acknowledging Led Zeppelin as an influence, making the yin-yang balance between pretty acoustic and thundering electric an ongoing theme of their music, and frequently covering Zep tunes like “Rock and Roll” in concert. That influence is all over Heart’s latest disc Red Velvet Car, and in its own way represents a return to form for a group that has morphed through a variety of musical stages, even as the supporting cast surrounding Ann & Nancy has evolved again and again.

From the very first track (“There You Go”) that influence is apparent yet again, as the sisters deliver a powerful dose of Zeppelin-esque folk-metal with a primal, visceral edge to it. As always, Ann’s voice emerges from somewhere deep inside to decorate the acoustic sections and do battle with the electric ones. Moreover, unlike the heavily commercial albums the group put out in the ‘80s, here the sisters are not overproduced; Ann’s voice sounds raw and real, exactly the right choice for a voice this powerful.

Up next, “WTF” kicks off with an aggressive electric riff, dropping back on the bridge to acoustic, more or less the inverse of “There You Go.” The electric guitar is dirty and aggressive, playing a circling, churning riff that would likely make Jimmy Page smile; this is old-school Heart, wailing electrified blues-rock with an acoustic framework hiding underneath, and it works.  The title track is another exercise in balance, starting out acoustic with strings, executing a nice build, and adding electric guitars two minutes in.  It’s an atmospheric tune with a certain weary maturity that suits the sisters well at this stage of their career.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Queen City” is where they stumble a bit, as the lyrics move from decent to disjointed. To wit, the chorus: “Yo-ho, yo-ho, gotta keep afloat / Crazy cradle in this leaky boat.” Not that I don’t enjoy pirate fantasies as much as the next guy, but this is one word jumble that just doesn’t work. That’s especially unfortunate because the arrangement of the song—embellishing Ann’s powerhouse vocals with echoey ascending electric chords and dense acoustic rhythm guitar—is interesting and complex, even as it’s undermined by the awkwardness of the lyric it supports.

Muddled lyrics again undercut the overall effect of songs like “Wheels” and “Safronia’s Mark,” leading me back to the liner notes, and another puzzle. Although the sisters employed a veteran producer for this album—Ben Mink of k.d. lang fame—he appears to have been part of the problem rather than the solution, seeing as how he receives a co-write credit on all three of the aforementioned tunes.

Ah, well. In between, “Hey You” provides a cleansing breath, a very pretty upbeat country-folk tune co-written by Mink and Nancy Wilson, who sings lead vocals. Nancy steps up to the mike again later on for the similarly successful (and notably Sheryl Crow-ish) midtempo tune “Sunflower.”

Back on the Ann front, “Death Valley” again has that Zep feel to it, alternating heavy with light sections, wailing Ann with harmonizing Nancy, with some rather obvious-feeling lyrics elevated by a passionate performance. On closer “Sand,” Ann takes her turn on a ballad and delivers a simply gorgeous lead vocal that harks all the way back to the group’s beginnings with “Dreamboat Annie.”

One thing seems certain from this album: the Wilsons aren’t much interested in trying to write hit singles these days. Simply writing and performing music that reflects their personalities and tastes is enough, and after watching their capabilities be eclipsed at times by commercial considerations in the '80s, it’s heartening (yeah I said it) to hear them making the music they want to make, regardless of how many units they may move.

This isn’t the Heart of the '70s, or the '80s; this is simply a pair of artists who have achieved enough to be completely comfortable in their own skins and not much care what anyone else—including me—thinks.  Good for them.

Rating: B

User Rating: B+


Comments

Jason,
I could'nt agree with you more . You really hit the nail on the head with your review of this album . Heart is no longer the top 40 commercial rock band of the 80's and during that period I don't think they were being true to themselves . They sold out under the pressure of their record company and went with all the outside songwriters,big hair,lots of cleavage,some pretty over the top costumes and high $ music videos for the sake of top tens and record sales . It's good to see them return to their roots and do what they want while still making us die hard fans happy in the process ! Ann Wilson is still the premiere voice in women's rock and will always be.








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