This year has been a great year to celebrate rock n’ roll. Bands of the 60s are celebrating 50 years since the 1962 British invasion of The Beatles, followed by the Stones, The Kinks, The Who, and on and on. And the bands that came after them in the ‘70s are celebrating their 40th. Bands like Queen, Yes, Asia and the other monster groups that made up Progressive Rock and the other genres of the’70s have been at it for 40 years and are releasing career retrospectives, box sets and new studio albums. Other artists that were members of great bands are releasing solo projects. Donald Fagan from Steely Dan, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull has released Thick As A Brick 2.
Today, I want to review three albums, two by the same artist (Jeff Lynne’s Long Wave & his remix of the astounding ELO Greatest Hits album Mr. Blue Sky - The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra,) but first one of, if not the greatest female led rock groups of all time. Heart. Heart led by sisters Ann & Nancy Wilson have combined the two. They released the great box set, Heart: Strange Euphoria back in the summer. They’ve also got a book out; Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll. And a new studio album proving these ladies can still rock hard and still deliver a soulful rock ballad.
The book is great. Probably the most honest and introspective biographies since Eric Clapton’s memoir, and that is saying a bunch. I’ll be reviewing it separately when I am finished but even having read just the first half, I am amazed. First, I am amazed to look back at all their successes. It’s easy to forget. Music has changed so much in my life time and rock music has led the way. All the great tunes Heart turned out over the decades;” Magic Man” from the first album , Dreamboat Annie which showed you could rock out and sing ballads, "Crazy on You" (number 35, 1976), “the ode to the press that suggested the sisters were more than sisters, “Barracuda," Little Queen, "How Can I Refuse", "These Dreams,” “Even It Up,” and many more songs that have become FM Radio staples.
Fanatic , Heart's 14th studio album, hit the streets on October 2nd and fans will be glad to know there is no sign that these ladies can’t still rock out. From the title track, which bats lead-off, “Fanatic” is a celebration of the Wilson's life spirit: Ann and Nancy are ‘fanatics’ about love, art, truth, and the belief that they can do anything together they set their minds to.
Fanatic was recorded in hotel rooms and studios up and down the West Coast, with Grammy-winning producer Ben Mink back at the helm with the Wilson sisters drawing from their own lives and personal experiences as inspiration for their music.
"What a crazy year we are having," said Ann Wilson. "Our box set, Strange Euphoria, and our book, Kicking and Dreaming, each tell the story of our lives so far, personally and musically. Our new album, Fanatic, tells our story as it is now and brings it all up-to-the-minute.
One of the wonderful things for this old Heart fan is the band throughout the album still maintains that ’organic’ feeling. The band isn’t filled with half a million “guest stars” (although there is one marvelous and inspired duet – we’ll get to that in a minute) for the most part, as they did from the start, the Wilson sisters lead the band, they wrote the songs and play the instruments, making them the first women in rock to do so. Nancy is still burning out great guitar licks with a few assists from Ben Mink. Ric Markmann covers the lowdown on the bass, Ben Smith is pounding out the beat on the skins and other percussion instruments. The album feels like a debut, not something played and sung 40 years after success. It’s immediate, it burns and it is oh, so tasty.
The second track is "Dear Old America" and it comes from memories of a military household and is written from the point of view of their father, a Marine Corps officer, returning from war ("When I get home, I'm going to own this town/Shine this medal/Wear that crown…."). The third track, "Walkin' Good" is that “guest super star” I was talking about above. It is a duet with Vancouver resident Sarah McLachlan and man does it captures the joy of finding new life in a new love.
It continues the legacy of great rock ballads in the vein of “Lovemongers” and has Ann playing some flute and Ben Mink on Banjo as well as Violin/Viola and keys programmed by Minks.
The album continues on without a weak tune in the batch; "Skin and Bones," "Million Miles," "Pennsylvania," "Mashallah," "Rock Deep (Vancouver)," "59 Crunch," and "Corduroy Road." All bound to be classics from this band that can still kick it in the new millennium. “Rock Deep (Vancouver)" harkens back to the city where Dreamboat Annie was written. Despite the rockers on this album, it may just be my favorite. The acoustic guitar is so sweet and the lyrics hit home, take you back to those days so long ago. Fanatic , tells their story as it is now and brings it all up-to-the-minute.
Perhaps the best thing about this album is that it show that Heart is not ready to fade into rock history. They won’t be hitting the “nostalgia circuit” any time soon, and they can still teach bands coming up today how to rock.
Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved