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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lost Retaliate Review: Heart - Red Velvet Car

Red Velvet Car
2010 Legacy Recordings

After proverbially telling John McCain and the G.O.P. “don’t tread on me” for playing “Barracuda” without consent at the 2008 Republican National Convention, the Wilson sisters return to the studio to enjoy one another’s company in their less-hassled recording sanctum. With no statute of limitations hanging atop them to rewrite Dreamboat Annie or to dense things down with the embossed whump marking their romance rock of the eighties, Heart opens up their sound space and colors against the numbers on their 13th album, Red Velvet Car.

Perhaps only ZZ Top bested Heart hit-for-hit in the glitzy transition from seventies rowdy to eighties veneered. While Heart, along with Starship, Kiss and Genesis fundamentally modified themselves from their glam-slammed wardrobe down to their mainstream-thinned songwriting, it’s Heart who came out of the eighties with their reputations unscathed. “Never,” “These Dreams” and “What About Love?” still hold a magnetic rein over listeners’ ears today. More than you can say for Genesis’ anti-prog lollygagger “I Can’t Dance” or Starship’s barf-o-matic cash cow “We Built this City.”

Still, if the throwback Heart logo crowning the cover of Red Velvet Car (and their 2004 album Jupiters Darling preceding) isn’t an indication the Wilsons are through writing formulaic power ballads, get a listen to the about-faced rock, folk, country ‘n blues material swirling about here. Throwing all sense of Big Eighties production out the door, Red Velvet Car is a swampy and lofty musician’s album, much as it is a music lover’s album.

This is Heart more in tune with Led Zeppelin ala “Queen City” as well as getting dirty on their shucked rockout session, “WTF.” Heart in 2010 is more like the Heart of Dog & Butterfly and Bebe le Strange on the affectionate “Hey You,” which deals out a yummy country-splashed intro featuring Nancy Wilson on lead vocals. It then ropes in just enough folk rock layering and happy-go-lucky “na-na-na-nas” to conjure up memories of polyester snug around your tickly spots.

Red Velvet Car would come off as a ladle dip into a punchbowl of analog afternoon delights if not for the beat machine behind the opening cut “There You Go” and the subversive electro brushes providing extra bass on the amped-up “Wheels.” The action-packed “Wheels” is a song Heart tinkered around with for the film Midnight Run. It came to Red Velvet Car instead and it contrasts “Safronia’s Mark” and “Death Valley,” the former song riding on the crest of spilled jambalaya, the latter yielding a touch of post-country Eagles.

Heart is less concerned with the big hit and more concerned with creating a dynamic rock experience which Red Velvet Car cozily offers, whether you’re talking the bluesy title track, the organic Beatles splash raining upon “Sunflower” or the whispery fade away song, “Sand.” The swishy “Sunflower” is Nancy’s charming ode to her sister while “Sand” is Ann’s bittersweet farewell to lost friends originally written for the Wilsons’ offshoot nineties project, The Lovemongers.

No loud ‘n proud electric anthems for the G.O.P. to hitch upon and no titanic makeout jams to be found here. Little Queen is yesterday and so is Bad Animals. As the Wilsons are more in tune with their younger selves as of Jupiters Darling and now Red Velvet Car, this Heart is now about the ride, forego any commercial stakes. Ann Wilson is still a voice to be contended with (she punctures your defenses on “Red Velvet Car” and “Sand”) and Nancy can still jerk, strum and twang with anyone out there. Together, their songwriting hasn’t been this pinpointed and progressive since before the self-titled Heart. For the second album in a row, Ann and Nancy Wilson prove they have plenty of their namesake throbbing inside to carry them another decade if not more.

Retaliate Rating: 8

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