Heart – Strange Euphoria – Epic Records/Sony Legacy 8869 (3 CDs + DVD) CD 1: 71:13; CD 2: 64:47; CD 3: 63:57; DVD: 56:48 [6/5/2012] ****:
(Ann Wilson – guitar, flute, keyboards, percussion, autoharp, violin, vocals; Nancy Wilson – guitar, mandolin, keyboards, synthesizers, harmonica, vocals; Steve Fossen – bass guitar, percussion; Roger Fisher – guitar, vocals; Don Wilhelm – guitar, vocals; plus many others)
It’s difficult to imagine that Heart has been part of the musical landscape for forty years. The Seattle-based band, featuring the talented Ann and Nancy Wilson, emerged from the Vancouver folk scene to become one of the most enduring rock acts ever. With a combination of folk songs, power ballads and heavy rock, the group catapulted to stardom with songs like “Magic Man” and “Crazy On You”. Despite inner band turmoil and dubious marketing, the group persevered. Their flawless harmonies on recordings like “Dog And Butterfly” coupled with their gutsy rock n’ roll arrangements ignited a strong cult following.
Strange Euphoria, a substantial four-disc box set, will entice rock listeners, and reverberate with Heart”s core fan base. Unlike many compilations, the three music CDs mix studio material with demos and live cuts that reflect the earliest incarnations of Heart. The opening track, “Through Eyes And Glass” is a rare look at Ann Wilson and the Daybreaks. Beginning with a duet of acoustic guitar and flute, the pure tone of Wilson’s voice is captivating. The breakthrough hit, “Magic Man” is covered in this demo as a folk number, but hints at the psychedelic, bluesy edge that would define this group. Another demo of a big hit, “Crazy On You” is stripped down somewhat (without the harmony vocals), but still hits the mark. A certain highlight is the acoustic demo of “Dog And Butterfly” with solo vocals. The harder edge is there as well on cuts like “Straight On” and “Kick It Out” where the power of the Wilson sisters’ singing is prominent.
It has been suggested that Heart has an affinity for Led Zeppelin pretense. Disc Two kicks off with the raunchy “Bebe le Strange” that may support that argument. Other uptempo songs like “Even It Up” and “City’s Burning” detail the jagged attitude of the band. But this retrospective is not typical. An interesting live version of “Never” (featuring Zeppelin bassist, John Paul Jones) has a Celtic aesthetic. Nancy Wilson’s silky voice is featured on “These Dreams”. Additional demos (“Under The Sky”, “High Love” and “Unconditional Love”) shine a light on the songwriting ability of these singers. Their natural chemistry is undeniable.
Disc Three is an eclectic group of tracks. “Kiss” (from the Heart “alternative” band, The Lovemongers) is a smoky, blues opus that is deeply rooted in soul. A demo of “Any Woman’s Blues” (with the Seattle Blues Review) is a groove-infested delight. Ann Wilson is a dominant front singer, easily among the elite of rock n’ roll. A rollicking live version of “Love Or Madness” (taken from the duet tour) showcases a blistering duet with Ann (vocal) and Nancy (harmonica). Nancy Wilson is a versatile instrumentalist. There is some techno-dance material that doesn’t hold up, but fortunately it is minimal.
As a bonus, there is also a concert DVD from 1976. This is a visceral glimpse into an emerging rock band. With a spotlight on tracks from Dreamboat Annie, the ten song set is a gem. Check out “Intro” with Ann wailing on the flute and Nancy and Roger Fisher rocking out on dueling guitars. The box set comes with a glossy book that contains specific insights into the compositions from the Wilsons. Each disc is stored inside a narrow slit in the folded package (but is somewhat difficult to remove). As far as retrospective compilations go, Strange Euphoria is unique in its unconventional approach.
CD 1: Through Eyes And Glass; Magic Man (demo); How Deep it Goes (demo); Crazy On You (demo); Dreamboat Annie/Dreamboat Annie Reprise (edit); Love Alive; Sylvan Song; Dream Of The Archer; White Lightning & Wine (live); Barracuda (live); Little Queen; Kick It Out; Here Song (demo); Heartless (demo); Dog & Butterfly (demo); Straight On; Nada One
CD 2: Bebe le Strange; Silver Wheels II; Even It Up; Sweet Darlin’; City’s Burning; Angels; Love Mistake; Lucky Day (demo); Never (live); These Dreams; Nobody Home; Alone; Wait for An Answer; Unconditional Love (demo); High Romance (demo); Under The Sky (demo); Desire Walks On (demo)
CD 3: Kiss; Sand; Everything (live); She Still Believes (live) Any Woman Blues (demo); Strange Euphoria; Boppy’s Back (demo); Friend Meets friend (live); Love Or Madness (live); Skin To Skin; Fallen Ones; Enough; Lost Angel (live); Little Problems, Little Lies; Queen City; Hey You; Avalon
DVD: The Second Ending – Featuring Heart: Pre Show; Heartless; White Lightning And Wine; Dreamboat Annie; Silver Wheels; Crazy On You; Sing Child; Soul Of The Sea; Devil Delight; Magic Man
A Virtuosic Quietude in Hough’s rendering of Mompou “Música Callada”