Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: Heart & Friends "Home For The Holidays"

Last December, beloved rock legends Ann and Nancy Wilson returned to hometown Seattle for a Christmas-themed performance at Benaroya Concert Hall, inviting a star-studded A-list of performers to join them.  This year, this magnificent concert is available for all of us to enjoy, as a CD/DVD package.

"Heart & Friends - Home For The Holidays" emphasizes the "Friends", as Ann and Nancy are joined by Shawn Colvin, Sammy Hagar, Richard Marx, and Pat Monahan in a selection of Christmas songs both traditional and modern, including Ann's recitation of a poem that she hopes will bloom into a full song (Ann - we share your hope).  From the opening song "River" through "Remember Christmas", Heart and their friends give us a true musical Christmas feast.

There is a prevailing sense of intimacy, friendship, and holiday spirit throughout the album.  What comes through to me is a a performance that is relaxed and is enjoyed by the performers as much as the audience.   Shawn Colvin sings "Rocking", a beautiful and under-recorded Christmas song.  Richard Marx joins Heart for "All Through the Night".  Sammy Hagar, perhaps having the most fun of all as 'Sammy Claus', takes the lead on two songs, "All We Need is an Island" and the rollicking "Santa's Going South".  And Pat Monahan from Train joins the band and closes the guest set with a tremendous rendition of "Please Come Home for Christmas".

Even though this is a Christmas show, it wouldn't be a Heart concert without "Barracuda", so the band kicks it up and Ann Wilson resurrects that voice of a Siren that we all know and love.  And then, oh mah goodness, Heart is joined by a Seattle gospel choir for "Stairway to Heaven".  There are songs that are darned near un-coverable, and "Stairway" is one of those, but my goodness my goodness, Heart has taken this and made it their own as no one else could do.  With the gospel choir backing Ann's soaring vocals, it gives one chills.  It's the arrangement that they performed at Kennedy Center Honors for Led Zeppelin which brought tears to the eyes of Robert Plant.

The album closes with everyone back on stage, except for Sammy Hagar who was, as Ann joked, "already in Cabo", to perform "Ring Them Bells".  The show, and the evening of friends coming together, ended with a finale that brought everyone back into the spirit of Christmas.

Heart with Ann and Nancy Wilson came together in 1974, and Ann's voice has matured over the years.  The pure, sharp, laser-point power has given way to a sultry-scotchy edge and adds a new dimension to her performance.  The great Les Paul, as he aged and began to develop arthritis in his fingers, was frustrated that he could not play the way he used to, or wanted to.  Les' family basically reminded him that he was a consummate musical innovator, and to stop the frustration and re-imagine how to play around the arthritis, and, as we know, he continued to play into his 90s in New York.  It seems to me that, as Les Paul innovated a new playing method, Ann Wilson has embraced her maturing voice and is using this new instrument to her fullest wonderful potential.

"Heart & Friends - Home for the Holidays" is a beautiful addition to anyone's Christmas music collection, and is as full of warmth as a fresh cup of hot cocoa by the fireplace on a cold December night.

"Heart & Friends - Home for the Holidays" is available through all the usual retail outlets

A download of "Heart & Friends - Home for the Holidays" was provided for review and promotional considerations by the good people at Miles High Productions.

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