Heart is without a doubt one of the most successful bands in rock ‘n’ roll music history. The Wilson sisters have cemented a name for themselves in an industry that, as a general consensus, is perceived by many to be an all-boys club. By the time Heart’s debut album “Dreamboat Annie” was released in ’76, the idea of the female rock icon was losing its place; Janis Joplin was long dead, and Grace Slick was having a mediocre solo career after Jefferson Airplane dissolved. Heart’s only real colleagues at this point were probably The Runaways, who had only just released their debut album the same year. Needless to say, Heart is a pinnacle band of the mid-seventies and beyond that reinstated the prominence of female rock icons and gave the public a barrage of hit songs all the way into the 90’s. Almost forty years after “Dreamboat Annie”, Nancy and Ann Wilson still seem to be riding the crest of the wave, releasing their fourteenth studio album “Red Velvet Car” in 2010, and their fifteenth album “Fanatic” in 2012. The band has been showered with awards, has been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and has been given a star on the famous Hollywood walk. On December 12th, 2013, Ann and Nancy returned to their hometown of Seattle to perform a holiday-themed concert with a host of distinguished musicians, including Shawn Colvin, Richard Marx, Sammy Hagar, and Pat Monahan. The recording of the concert that night was released for sale Monday, November 10th, and is titled Heart and Friends – Home for the Holidays.
Ann and Nancy Wilson have some of the most powerful and strikingly beautiful voices in the world today; as this concert demonstrates vocal prowess that has been maintained meticulously since 1976. The live recording begins with the song “River”, sang with impressive fortitude, power, and stamina by Ann. The orchestration on the track was arranged almost perfectly, and provides an atmosphere of subtle elegance that makes Ann’s voice sound absolutely massive. This album is quite different from your typical studio or album or even your typical live album in that it features duets with other artists, a poetry reading from one of the Wilson sisters, and plenty of warm, good spirited audience banter between songs. In many ways, these liberties don’t take away, but actually add to the pleasant and lighthearted atmosphere that can be felt throughout the entirety of “Home for the Holidays”. The guest performances serve as a very nice counterbalance to the performances by the Wilson sisters. Shawn Colvin sang a few airy, touching ballads at the beginning of the album, and Heart’s accompaniment by Pat Monanhan on the old Charles Brown tune “Please Come Home for Christmas” was incredibly solid. Everything about this album sounds full, warm, and rich. Sammy Hagar’s appearance, although somewhat brief, was a highlight of the CD in that it seemed to break away from the overall mood of the rest of the show, but still take the atmosphere to a place that was incredibly positive. Going from the elegant orchestration of “River” to the twangy pedal steel guitars of “All We Need Is An Island”, was a big step, but overall it was one that seemed to work for the performance. “Barracuda” was excellent on this album, not just the recording quality and the vocal quality but the instrumentation as well. Nancy’s guitar playing was virtually flawless. Everyone sounds really on point during the entire CD, usually live albums are a little bit of give and take, but the consistency and stamina of everyone throughout “Home for the Holidays” was something to be admired. “Ring Them Bells” was an absolutely stunning track. Covering the mood of a Bob Dylan song is no easy task, especially with a song as intricate, poetic, and beautiful as “Ring Them Bells.” Colvin, Monanhan, and Marx all join in with Heart and the result is a lofty, grandiose chorus that throws tidal waves of emotion into the audience. There are so many highlights to this great show captured on the “Home for the Holidays” CD, but in many ways it could be said that Ann’s voice was the greatest quality. From smooth, warm, and delicate, to howling and belting, it envelops the listener and resonates deeply, making an inherent personal human connection that can only be reserved for the greatest of singers.
As was stated before, this album is decidedly not like typical live albums. It frequently introduces new artists throughout the CD, covers almost no original Heart material, and wasn’t recorded during a tour or in respect to a studio album. It may not have mattered so much if it was not that Heart actually released “Home for the Holidays” under the band name, which I felt was a little bit misleading. The fact that it’s meant to be a Christmas album is fair enough, but if I’m buying a live Heart album, I’m expecting at least three to five original Heart tracks, not just Barracuda. The other performers give a great since of depth to the CD, but their roles throughout most of the album are too limited to be some kind of split record. “Home For the Holidays” doesn’t give the audience a true live Heart set, and it doesn’t really give equal contribution to all the artists represented either. The album is just a bunch of great musicians singing what they want, albeit singing it very well. I suppose most people know what they are getting into when they buy an album called “Home for the Holidays”, but if you think just because the CD says Heart on it, you’ll get a bunch of live Heart tunes, you may be a little disappointed.
All critiques aside, this album is beautiful, and in musical respects is nearly flawless. “Home for the Holidays” is a great performance from one of the biggest bands to ever play rock music. Christmas albums by popular contemporary bands are usually really cheesy or downright terrible, but Heart had the talent to create an album and an atmosphere that enhances the holiday experience. The album was warm, touching, and demonstrated famous musical ability that has inspired generations of younger artists.
Genre: Traditional/Holiday, Pop, Rock
Sounds Like: Something one may expect to hear during a broadcast of the Grammys, yet Xmas themed
Technical Grade: 4/5
Production/Musicianship Grade: 5/5
Commercial Value: 4/5
Overall Talent Level: 5/5
Song Choices: 4/5
Performance Skills: 5/5
Best Songs: River, Barracuda, Ring Them Bells
Strengths: Fantastic performances by some of the best musicians in the industry, overall atmosphere
Weaknesses: Little original Heart Material on this album
Final Score: 5/5 Stars