Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CD Spotlight: Heart's Red Velvet Car (An Early Review)

Heart has managed to evolve and stay relevant for more than three decades, thanks to the leadership of sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. Even in the years when Heart was "sleeping" (from about 1996-2001, when their Christmas CD was re-branded and re-released under Heart), Ann and Nancy continued to record under The Lovemongers moniker and with Nancy releasing a solo album, "Live at McCabes", in 1999. Over the past decade, the band has released a few compilations, two live CD's, a studio album entitled "Jupiter's Darling", in 2004, and Ann released her first solo album, "Hope and Glory", in 2007. In addition, Heart has continued to tour consistently over the past decade and have stood the test of time, perhaps better than any band that originated in the 1970's (and beyond) and are still touring and recording today.

Heart's latest studio album, "Red Velvet Car", from Sony Legacy, drops on August 31st. This new effort features nine new songs and a re-recording of the song "Sand", which was originally released on The Lovemongers "Whirligig" album, from 1997. While "Red Velvet Car" features Heart's familiar mix of rockers and ballads, the songs are musically eclectic and some are unlike anything the band has previously released. For instance, "WTF" sounds completely original from a musical standpoint, with Ann and Nancy providing their strong, trademark vocals. "WTF" is the best new song featured here and longtime fans will appreciate the hard rock edge of the song, while new fans will be drawn to its contemporary feel.

The title track, while more laid back, is also very strong. Ann's vocals are poignant and understated as she sings about helping a friend in need. Those understated vocals were one of the noticeable aspects of "Red Velvet Car", particularly on the ballads. However, Ann does let loose of the more rocking songs, like "Wheels" and the aforementioned "WTF." Of course, Heart's strong vocals have been one of the band's biggest assets over the years and I am not sure how Ann continues to be able to belt out songs with the same intensity, but she still sounds terrific. In addition, Nancy has also taken care of her voice and she takes the lead on two of the songs featured here; "Hey You" and "Sunflower." Her voice sounds remarkably similar to her "Live at McCabes" recordings, some ten years ago. Both songs are very upbeat and filled with positive vibes.

Another new song, the musically original "Saffronia's Mark", features a middle eastern sound that is coupled with strong lyrics that tell a story of someone who has experienced much turmoil in their life and appears to be a lost soul who desires to be loved and accepted. In addition, "Queen City", a homage to the band's home in Seattle, is a thoughtful ode about past good times and the comfortable feeling one gets when going home again. My favorite song from "Red Velvet Car", "Sand", is one of my all-time favorite Heart songs. I fell in love with it 13 years ago and it stills sounds just as good, if not better, today. The song has been re-recorded and features a slightly different, more acoustic arrangement, and tells of the loss of a friend or loved one. "Sand" could easily be a top ten hit and is a great example of the power of Ann's voice.

Overall, "Red Velvet Car" is a solid entry in Heart's ever growing discography. I suspect long time fans will appreciate the strong effort put forth here and with songs like "WTF" and "Sand", this release should have broad appeal. Heart is currently touring in support of this new release and if you have an opportunity to see the band live, you need to go. Of course, you do not have to take my word for it, just google Heart concert reviews to read the almost universally positive reviews and also check out the overwhelmingly positive reviews of the band on the Ticketmaster website.

I will have the opportunity to see Heart live in concert again (for the tenth time!) next weekend when they perform in Raleigh, NC. The current set list features songs I do not think I have ever heard performed live, including "Cook with Fire", "Heartless" and Heart's cover of the Led Zeppelin's classic "What Is and What Should Never Be." Please check back here for my review of the concert next weekend and don't forget to pick up your copy of "Red Velvet Car" later this month (either in stores or online).