Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Heart Back to Classic '70s Sound

Heart's Wilson sisters and their classy Red Velvet Car are nicely draped in Mink these days -- Ben Mink, that is.

The Canadian producer teams with rock and roll's dynamic duo, singer Ann Wilson and guitarist Nancy Wilson, and their bandmates on their new album Red Velvet Car (Eagle Rock). The tour supporting Red Velvet Car brings Heart to Harris Park this week for the seventh edition of Rock the Park.

"That is the Ben Mink effect," Nancy Wilson said from Los Angeles recently, after hearing praise for the superb guitar textures and drives on Red Velvet Car. "He and his engineer-mixer David Leonard famously get incredible guitar sounds."

Mink isn't a member of Heart. He can be heard with Heart, along with U.S. roots music superstar Alison Krauss, as a guest on a DVD set for release as a complement to the Aug. 31-dropping Red Velvet Car.

Mink had worked with Ann Wilson on a solo project. He also checked out Heart and found a way to bring the rockers full-circle to a new take on their classic sound from the 1970s.

"When he imprinted our band, he saw that, he saw the same thing that we started out being, that acoustic nucleus inside a rock format, with -- of course --Ann's voice, which is signature," Nancy Wilson said. "He went all the way there with that aspect of our sound which we thought was pretty genius."

That genius plays out on Red Velvet Car with an assortment of strings including guitar, mandolin, dobro, banjo, fiddle, viola, cello and autoharp, all played by Nancy Wilson and Grammy-winning Mink.

Using B.C. as a base at first, Ann Wilson and her younger sister, Nancy, blasted off during the 1970s with songs such as Crazy on You, Magic Man and Barracuda.

Heart's hits continued into the 1980s and into the 1990s with These Dreams, Alone, What About Love, If Looks Could Kill and Never among the 21 Top 40 markers for the band. Heart has sold more than 30 million records.

Mink is helping them sell more. Born in the U.S., but a Canadian since the late 1960s, Mink has worked with k.d. lang, Rush, Barenaked Ladies and others -- all the way back to Murray McLauchlan's Silver Tractors.

It's another Canadian with a similar last name -- Sarah McLachlan -- who has been a key Heart ally as the band tours this summer with McLachlan's Lilith Fair.

"Sarah McLachlan is one of the coolest influences on the culture, not just women's culture, but the culture of human rights and awareness. We're there for her," Nancy Wilson said. Wilson said that Lilith Fair's cancellation of some dates have made it a target for media attention, even though other tours are also dropping dates.

"There's a negative spin on it. It's easy to pick on the women," Nancy Wilson said.

Rock and roll's most famous sister act are ready to drive right through such spin. It helps to have such a strong vehicle in Red Velvet Car, the first new studio album in six years for Heart.

Nine of the album's songs were written for the album. The closing track, Sand, is a beautiful new version of a song originally written and recorded by the Lovemongers, the sisters' 1990's acoustic side project.

Other standouts include Queen City, "a love letter" to Seattle music.

"It's like the Liverpool of America in many ways," Nancy Wilson said. "It's a seaport town with big music talent. They've had a lot of people coming from there from Ray Charles to Jimi Hendrix, the Wailers, the Sonics ... the grunge era was another wave of that."

The strongest track is WTF, which translates as just what you expect when Ann Wilson is shouting it out. It combines wisdom from journals kept by the sisters' late mother, Lois "Lou" Wilson, with a crunching riff from Heart guitarist Craig Bartock.

"That's just one of the big rockers. We have a variety of grapes in our vineyard. We put out varietals (a wine term) as our songs, " Nancy Wilson said. "That's definitely the 'hard rock variety' song."

After getting the full Mink customizing, WTF beats away as strongly as only Heart can.

"I think it sounds so extremely Heart as well, especially the pre-'80s version of Heart, the original sound of Heart, which could be really heavy rock with the acoustic rocking as hard as any electric in the sound," she said. "That's a little different from most rock and roll."