Ann Wilson’s Renaissance
Ann Wilson brought me to tears in New York City. The evening had started off great with myself and a few friends arriving at New York’s City Winery. We got our tickets, found our seats, grabbed our drinks and were ready to experience a rare club date by—it has been unanimously agreed upon—one of the best singers of any genre or gender, Ann Wilson, debuting her new solo project The Ann Wilson Thing.
Wilson and her band (Craig Bartock, Ben Smith, Chris Joyner and Andy Stoller) took the stage to cheers from the sold out crowd. The band kicked into a crunchy, rhythmic take on “For What It’s Worth”. The song set the tone of the night and got the audience up and dancing. The set continued with some of Wilson’s favourite blues, rock and jazz tunes curated for the night. The band slid sinuously into “I Put A Spell On You”, with Wilson wrapping her voice around each word in a way that was as commanding as it was sultry.
“I’ve been a fool to let you fake me and fuck around with my mind…”
Photo by Andrew Vail
Only two songs in and she had the audience in the palm of her hand. This is when the band dug into an original (written by Wilson and guitarist Craig Bartock) from their just-released EP, #1, called “Fool No More”. A classic blues tune, it builds slowly with the words, “Another day, another night, another silence, another fight. Burning up, cooling down. Back here again on the ground…I’ve been a fool to let you fake me and fuck around with my mind…” The song builds and builds to a gritty crescendo before making a gentle touchdown.
Ann Wilson may be most famous as a hard rock and power ballad singer based on Heart’s four-decade catalogue of music, but she grew up a child of the 60s, listening to R&B, folk, Brit Rock and American Protest Music. These early influences were clear throughout the evening as she paid tribute to Neil Young with the hauntingly stark, “War Of Man”, Bob Dylan’s hopeful and spiritual “Every Grain Of Sand”, a passionate performance of John Lennon’s “Isolation” and the Animals “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”.
And that’s the moment Ann Wilson brought me to tears.
However, it was what came next that dug deep into my heart and gave it a shake I was not expecting. With just the gently pulsating backing of bass, Ann Wilson introduced the next song, dedicating it to LGBT people. The band then gently moved into the beautiful Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush classic, “Don’t Give Up”. I, like the rest of the audience, was taken off guard by this song choice and a hush fell over the room. Wilson sang both parts of the song, dropping her voice to handle the Gabriel lines. Then she went in for the emotional wallop. Raising the timbre of her voice just a touch and softening its bluesy edges, she sang the Bush lines: “Don’t give up, you have friends. Don’t give up, you’re not beaten yet. Don’t give up, I know you can make it good…” And that’s the moment Ann Wilson brought me to tears.
Ann Wilson is going through a professional and personal renaissance.
I’m quite sure I was not alone in that emotional moment. Wilson rode that wave with a few more tunes, including a spectacular take on Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way”, where she climbed octaves and keys that would make the Queen of Soul proud—and maybe a little envious.
It is clear that Ann Wilson is going through a professional and personal renaissance. Her band Heart is going stronger than ever—especially for a band forty years into its career—packing arenas and amphitheatres across North America, landing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and finding their place in the pantheon of ground-breaking rock bands. For her, though, Wilson seems reborn. Her voice is even more soulful and powerful than should be reasonably expected for someone who has sung so hard for so long. That’s no small feat.
Courtesy Ann Wilson
As well, she has been exploring a passion she had long before she became a rock star, and that is to design clothing. She had designed the clothes for Heart in the 70s (Gypsy and Japanese motifs), and is designing her current stage wear, which includes everything right down to the killer lace-up boots.
Finally, she is newly married and looks serene and at peace. She glows. And that radiance is felt by everyone lucky enough to have an audience with Ann Wilson.
Catch The Ann Wilson Thing in select cities until the end of November. And don’t miss Heart dates until the end of 2015.
Purchase The Ann Wilson Thing #1 on iTunes or Amazon.
Andrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites. Andrew is currently working on the project queer50.com.
Tags: Andy Stoller
, Ann Wilson
, Ann Wilson’s Renaissance
, Aretha Franklin
, Ben Smith
, Bob Dylan
, Chris Joyner
, City Winery
, Craig Bartock
, Don't Give Up
, Fool No More
, I Put A Spell On You
, John Lennon
, Kate Bush
, Neil Young
, New York City
, Peter Gabriel
, The Ann Wilson Thing