Heart – Home for the Holidays
For 35+ years, Ann and Nancy Wilson have blazed a trail through popular music as the lynchpins of Heart, one of the most successful acts in modern music history. Their talents and presence have defined the band since their 1976 debut, Dreamboat Annie. The sisters have likewise demonstrated tremendous staying power. A fool would pin their longevity on luck; talent and grit has steered them through turns in commercial fortunes and momentous life decisions. The band’s music and Wilson sisters alike have influenced legions of imitators and, only in recent years, have received the critical recognition they have deserved for decades.
Coming on the heels of their recent induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Heart’s new album from Frontiers Records, Home for the Holidays, isn’t the sort of release one associates with legends burnishing or adding to their legacy. The truth is, even in a healthier climate for new music, Heart doesn’t need to write and record 10-12 new songs every 2-4 years unless the burning desire to do so seizes them. In the long twilight of their careers, the Wilson sisters have returned to first principles. They are recording the music they love, arranging, and performing it with the same care as ever, and if it happens to be someone else’s song, they prove again here that they possess the security and confidence to excel as first-rate interpreters.
The album opens with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River”. This oft-covered ballad usually gets a reverential treatment, like some fragile piece of crystal susceptible to cracking under the slightest strain. Heart handles the song respectfully, but Ann Wilson’s vocal treatment is the real star here. Instead of nursing the lyrics through a series of ethereal peaks, Ann’s impassioned vocal turns its deeper register to good use and spills out fire and balm in equal portions.
Shawn Colvin’s guest shot on the beautiful “Love Came Down at Christmas” never flirts with the maudlin thanks to the sincere, balanced vocal. Colvin never plays it for sentimentality and her clear voice meshes well with the steady musical march. Sammy Hagar guests on the cheerful, tongue-in-cheek “All We Need Is an Island” and turns in a performance emitting such effortless charm that one can’t help but wish Hagar did this sort of thing more often. The rich backing includes strong two-part harmonies and solid, relaxed drumming.
Wilson returns to belt out a soulful “Please Come Home from Christmas” that ranks as one of the album’s peaks. She invests this standards with such bluesy passion you’d think this was “Stormy Monday” instead of a holiday song. Train vocalist Pat Monahan duets with Wilson here and his willingness to match Wilson’s passion is another key to this song’s success. The band casts their eye towards Heart’s impressive back catalog near the album’s finish with an energetic rendition of “Barracuda” and a tough, rambunctious version of “Even It Up”. The latter pulses with vitality its studio predecessor lacked, in no small part because of the different settings, but there’s a diamond-hard snarl in this romping take.
The conclusion brings out everyone for a rousing cover of Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells”. Heart aren’t strangers to this latter-day Dylan gem, but they bring the same adventurousness and sincerity to this that listeners hear on their “River” cover. Like tributes, charity projects, and soundtracks, the Christmas album is practically a cliché with hackneyed schmaltz music outnumbering the good by hundreds. Heart’s Home for the Holidays is what happens when artists turn their attentions towards this venerable form.
– J Hillenburg, Approved by Cyrus Rhodes (Seattle, WA)