Monday, June 11, 2012

CD/DVD Review: Heart Strange Euphoria 3CD/1 DVD Box Set

Strange Euphoria

Strange Euphoria

It’s been close to 4o years that Ann and Nancy Wilson have been driving the rock band Heart. Thirteen studio albums from Dreamboat Annie, 1976,  through 2010s Red Velvet Car which became the groups tenth Top Ten album. The music was filled with emotion, an ability to connect on a personal level with an audience whether the song was heavy rock or tender dreamy ballads. The band initially found success in Canada. Formed out of an early ‘60s band, The Army,lead by  bassist Steve Fossen, They played for several years in and around the Bothell, Washington area (northeast of Seattle). In ‘69, the band changed lineups and names and White Heart (from Tales from the White Hart, a collection of short stories by Arthur C. Clarke) was born.

The Wilson sisters grew up in a military family in California and Taiwan before their Marine Corps father retired to a Seattle suburb.Ann met Roger's brother Mike in 1971, Mike was set to be drafted. Nancy Wilson has stated that when he did not report for duty, his home was raided, but he slipped out a rear window, escaped to Canada. One day in 1972, Mike crossed the border to visit family and, by chance, met Ann at a Hocus Pocus show and they fell in live and Ann joined the band. The band relocated to Canada by 1973, and had enough success to become known as a Canadian band.

Mean while, in Seattle, sister Nancy went to  college, majoring in art and German literature and playing solo gigs on the side. In  1974 when she quit college and moved to Canada to join Heart. After many one-night shows around their new home in Vancouver, the group recorded a demo tape with the assistance of producer Mike Flicker and session-guitarist and keyboard player, Howard Leese. Leese eventually became a full-time member and the debut album, Dreamboat Annie was recorded at Can-Base Studios in Vancouver.

Heart “Magic Man” 1976

Heart's first Mushroom Records single How Deep it Goes b/w Here Song  received little attention when released in Canada in 1975. But the second single Magic Man was picked up for radio airplay by a station in Montreal. The album Dreamboat Annie followed and sold an impressive 30,000 copies across Canada in its first few months. In the US, Shelly Siegel, Mushroom’s manager,  released the album first in the Seattle area on February 14, 1976where it quickly sold another 25,000 copies. With two hit singles, "Crazy on You" (number 35, 1976) and "Magic Man" (number 9, 1976), Dreamboat Annie eventually sold over 1 million copies.

President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to Vietnam War draft evaders on his first day in office, January 21, 1977 and Mike Fisher was able to freely come back to the states.

By this time Heart had broken its contract with Mushroom and signed a contract with CBS subsidiary Portrait Records. This move resulted in a long series of law suits with Siegel, a former CBS employee. In 1977 Mushroom ran a full-page ad in Rolling Stone magazine showing the bare-shouldered Wilson sisters (as on the "Dreamboat Annie" album cover) with the suggestive caption, "It was only our first time!" When a reporter suggested that the sisters were sex partners, the infuriated Ann returned to her hotel room and began writing the lyrics to "Barracuda" to relieve her frustration. Mushroom released the partly completed album Magazine in early 1977 just before Portrait released Little Queen. Magazine was pulled off the shelves because of the law suits. Mushroom was eventually allowed to release Magazine by the courts, but only after Heart was allowed to remix the content. Little Queen, with the hit "Barracuda"  became Heart's second million-seller. Ann and Nancy made the cover of Rolling Stone in July 1977 (issue No. 244).

Heart “Even It Up” from Beebe Le Strange - 1980

Heart continued to have hit after hit and gold record albums throughout the late ‘70s but by 1982, with the breakup of romantic relationships within the band and the loss of producer Mike Flicker and manager Michael Fisher the bands popularity waned. Following the release of Private Audition in 1982, besides the Wilson sisters, most of the band members had left, and when Passionworks, also failed to reach Gold Record status, it seemed the band had run its course.

But Passionworks yielded the lone Number 1 Rock single "How Can I Refuse", which moved the band towards a more mainstream sound and in 1984 Ann Wilson recorded a duet, with Mike Reno of Loverboy, called "Almost Paradise". It was featured on the soundtrack of the movie Footloose. This was enough to keep the band in the public eye until 1985 when the next album and first for Capitol, simply titled Heart , turned out to be the biggest commercial success in the band's history. It yielded 4 Top Ten hits with "These Dreams" reaching number 1, 1986.

“These Dreams”

In the MTV era sex appeal was considered a major ingredient in the sisters’ resurgence and they definitely possessed sex appeal. Heart's next album, Bad Animals in 1987, continued the hair metal theme that defined much of 1980s rock music. it produced another number 1 hit, Alone, as well three other top 50 hits. The band entered the 1990s with Brigade, their sixth platinum record which produced 3 more top 25 songs. After the live album, Rock The House Live, the sisters seemed to change directions with the formation of an all acoustic band, The Lovemongers. Then they drifted through the middle of the decade by releasing a Christmas album.

In 1995 Nancy decided to take a break from music to concentrate on raising a family with husband Cameron Crowe. Ann toured that year with a band that was alternately called The Ann Wilson Band or Ann Wilson & the Ricola Brothers. Nancy joined them for a guest appearance sporadically for live shows. Once again, Heart as a musical vehicle, had seemed to run out of gas.

“All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You”

Between 1996 and 2001 Ann kept the car coasting along without Nancy and they both worked on a projects away from the band including Nancy’s husband Cameron Crowe’s  films Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Elizabethtown and Vanilla Sky. Then in 2002, Ann and Nancy returned to the road with a brand-new Heart lineup that included Scott Olson, Ben Smith, Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez, and keyboardist Tom Kellock. This resulted in the concert DVD Alive in Seattle which went gold. 

In 2004, with the new lineup, Heart released Jupiter's Darling, their first studio album since 1993. It featured a variety of songs that included a return to Heart's original hard rock sound, as well as a blend of pop and new textures. Stand-out tracks included the singles "The Perfect Goodbye", "Oldest Story in the World" and "Lost Angel". On August 31, 2010 the band's long-awaited new studio album entitled Red Velvet Car was released.[29] The album featured 10 tracks, including a new working of the Lovemongers' song "Sand". It marked a stylistic return to Heart's melodic hard rock and folk sound. The album peaked at Number 10 on the charts and became the group's first top 10 album in 20 years.

Heart “WTF” from “Red Velvet Car” 2010

If you have been breathing air over the past nearly 40 years, then you have heard a Heart tune. Probably sang along. Probably danced. They set the scene for the Seattle Music bands to follow. Their legacy is undeniable. Among the groups who have recorded at their Bad Animals studio are R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Candlebox. Heart has achieved Top 10 albums on the Billboard charts in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2010s with chart singles in each decade. This span of over four decades places them among the most commercially enduring hard rock acts of all time.

Heart's diversity in music styles has been evident in their chart successes. The band has had singles chart success on Billboard's Hot 100, Mainstream Rock Tracks, and Adult Contemporary charts. Throughout history Heart has been labeled as Hard Rock, Folk, Easy Listening, Heavy Metal, and Hair Metal, many times demonstrating two or more of these styles on the same album. Their album title Dog and Butterfly was a symbol of their sometimes contradictory styles, with the "Dog" side of the album focusing on hard rock tunes and the "Butterfly" side made up of acoustic folk music. Their epic "Mistral Wind" from this album captured both styles in one song, starting as a mellow acoustic ballad and building to a metal crescendo. "Mistral Wind" is considered by many followers of Heart to be the band's finest studio recording.

Heart “Hey You’ from the album “Red Velvet Car” 2010

They are among the nominees for induction in the 2012 class for The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and should be a shoo in for that honor. Strange Euphoria celebrates the success of perhaps the greatest female led rock band in history. It contains 3 CDs of carefully chosen material ; their biggest hits and best-loved songs, set next to catalog treasures, rarities, demos and live performances. It comes in a Box Set that also includes the DVD, “The Second Ending”. There’s a bunch of stuff in here that has never seen the light of day, or any ears besides these two icons of rock.

When taken as a whole, it chronicles a band that saw many trends in music come and go and more often than not set those trends. Other times, they seemed to ignore the trends and just stay true to their vision. they showed the world that women can rock, and rock with the best of them. They wrote the songs. They played the instruments. They lead the band and they rocked. they’re still rockin’. the Box Set hit the street on June 5, so get ‘em while they’re hot, because Heart was and is always hot.


The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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