Red Velvet Car

Heart

It’s been way too long since Heart hatched a decent album. For awhile there, they were in serious danger of falling into the “heritage band” category, which essentially means you hang up the idea of recording new music and tour constantly, playing your old hits. But if you’ve seen the group live in the last couple of years, you might have picked up on a certain something — something that says Heart has more to give, they just need an outlet. To channel that outlet, they also needed proper direction if they intended to make a new, cohesive record. They needed someone like Ben Mink, who has worked with everyone from Rush to k.d. lang. So Mink produced Red Velvet Car, Heart’s most honest, most well-realized studio release since Dog & Butterfly.

At first, you’re fooled into thinking this an acoustically-based album. And in some ways, it is. But that doesn’t stop it from rocking. “There You Go” would have benefited greatly with the swish of a Les Paul and the pounce of a Ludwig, but it screams classic Heart nonetheless. “WTF” picks up the pace, a barking riff that tiptoes through a pond infested with barracudas, in some ways eclipsing the intensity by its ambiguity. Ann Wilson’s voice is run through a cheese grater for an edgier refrain, but then the acoustics rush in and ebb the tide. Yeah, this is Heart in 2010 and it’ll rip through your soul.

The acoustical basis of the album lies in the title track, much in the way Dreamboat Annie set the mood for the album for which it’s named. But the tempo picks up midway with a guitar and cello exchange that elegantly weaves the melody together. “Queen City” is a mid-tempo swing that sounds like a lost outtake from Little Queen, while “Safronia’s Mark” clinches the idea of classic Heart by tossing mandolins into a salad bowl with a helluva bottom end. Maybe it’s just a set-up for “Death Valley,” a stompin’ and hoppin’ travelogue gone bad, as illustrated by the psychedelic twist sealing its finale.

“Sunflower” features both Nancy and Ann Wilson on vocals. It’s one of those simple little songs that sounds like it should have been on a previous Heart album. Simply put, the riff is exotic, hypnotic and worth a spin. And as ‘Sand,” the final song on Red Velvet Car and an oldie with the Wilsons’ other group, the Lovemongers, lulls along, it remains half-arched in an veiled attempt to say that Heart is still here, still making music and still intent to adding to the dialogue of life, love and the pursuit of survival.

~ Shawn Perry

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