The Ann Wilson Thing

The Ann Wilson Thing

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Ann Wilson is a hero to both men and women alike. Heart was one of those bands that showed that a female can rock as hard as any man, any day or any week. I don’t want to dwell on that male/female rock issue too much in this review, but like Grace Slick before her, Ann did a true service to rock n’ roll that paved the way for many artists to come. Though Heart hasn’t released an album since 2012’s solid Fanatic, Wilson has been slowly and cautiously forging out on her own again, this time with her latest brainchild The Ann Wilson Thing’s latest EP, released back in September. Anyone longing for the singer’s authentic and individual approach will surely find something to love here.

The album is mostly made up of covers that have inspired and influenced Ann in some way. She picks a few heavy hitting standards and goes above and beyond the call of duty in making them come to life. There is more of a sense of Wilson taking these songs and putting everything she’s got into them, rather than simply recording some “cover songs.” While they are mindful and faithful of the original recordings, her unique vocal flair and lofty performances of the material sends each song down a slightly different path than what we’ve already heard. The bombastic lead guitars and African percussion heard on Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth” is louder and tougher than any rock n’ roll going right now. This is a tauter, tighter trapeze act than the classic Springfield hit that occasionally pops up on revival rock radio. It practically shakes the floor when played at high volumes and Wilson isn’t content to sleepwalk through the vocals, instead she climbs to the tallest mountain and proclaims them to the world below. Her voice is still in great melodic shape but her bluesy wails are full of gristly mid-range and near baritone bellowing that will knock you out of your seat with a widow maker sonic punch.

Her live take on Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” is the follow-up roundhouse that will put you down for good. The singer’s backing band is full of diving blues-rock swoops that lift up underneath the sliding, snaking guitar licks. Church organ and gospel choir accoutrements lend added weight to the proceedings, but Ann’s voice is the star of the show. She gives Aretha a run for her money in the hurdy gurdy department with her voice sinking low, lower and lowest, utilizing the entirety of her vocal range with some gliding high rises as well. Wilson is in control of every facet of her vocal register and she runs the entire gamut here… and then some. The charmingly low fidelity, classically recorded redux of Ray Charles’ “Danger Zone” is so sonically stripped-down and bare bones that one could easily mistake this for a song that Ann recorded many, many years ago. She tinkles away at the ivories and piles on some of the most gripping vocals of her career; they would even give Ray a run for his money. The lone Ann Wilson original “Fool no More” is in total agreement with the cover tracks. It’s a blues-rooted headnodder that moves at a hypnotic, crawling tempo with fierce guitar-work, lowdown rhythms and a robust Wilson vocal that again illustrates that Ann’s voice has lost none of its awe over time.

If anything, the album only further cements Ann Wilson as one of the greatest artists of all time. There is no doubt in my mind that she can play absolutely anything she wants and make it work to her advantage. The EP is a little shy on material, heck, 4 songs is short by EP standards even, but there is more than enough stellar work on hand that you can just hit the replay button to experience it all over again.

9 out of 10 stars.


David Beals