Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Weekender: Heart Retains Classic Energy

Thirty-four years after Heart burst onto the scene with the multi-platinum “Dreamboat Annie” and forever changed the landscape for women in rock, it would be easy to count them out as over-the-hill and irrelevant. But the Wilson sisters still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

“Red Velvet Car” is the band’s first new material since 2004’s “Jupiter’s Darling.” Having built a career on creating a fusion of folky acoustics and Led Zeppelin’s hard rock dynamics, Heart enters 2010 as energetic as ever and successfully follows the same path. The band still plays both ends of the musical spectrum right out of the gate, but it never loses sight of its strengths.

The CD opens with the acoustic-based “There You Go” before ripping into “WTF,” a song with a killer riff that harkens back to the ass-kicking guitar sound of “Barracuda” and “Crazy On You.” The acoustic songs such as the title track and the bouncy “Hey You” (with vocals by Nancy Wilson) sound both intimate and intricate, aided by the detailed production of Canada’s Ben Mink. Flipping over to the hard rock side of the coin, “Wheels” and “Death Valley” place the electric guitar front and center, right where it belongs on any great Heart recording.

Ann Wilson still hits every note every time. Her performance is spot-on for the mandolin-tinged “Safronia’s Mark,” proving that recently turning 60 hasn’t drained one ounce of power out of her vocal chords. The closing track, “Sand,” was originally released on the Wilson sisters’ Lovemongers project in 1997 but gets a fresh take and ends “Red Velvet Car” on an upbeat note without sounding sappy or maudlin.

Most of the band’s fans would never have bet on “Red Velvet Car,” Heart’s 13th studio album, to sound both diverse and dynamic, but it’s as strong as anything in the band’s catalog. Luckily, the band has matured past the ’80s bombast phase that alienated many of the original fans by drifting too far into overproduced pop territory. Perhaps this is the album that should have come out between “Dog & Butterfly” and “Little Queen.” Heart is a band that doesn’t just sound like it’s looking in the rearview mirror. After 34 years, the band still has something to say.

Rating: W W W W


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