After more than 30 years years of fronting that Seattle-based band with her sister Nancy, Ann Wilson is stepping out from that history with today's release of her first solo album, "Hope & Glory."
Her voice sets off a series of memories that pass through your mind like a bullet train.
Your Catholic-school uniform. The painted cinderblock walls of your best friend’s basement. The surge of sound a crowd makes when the lights go off in a concert hall.
And the album cover bearing two sisters, one raven-haired, one blonde, sitting back-to-back, their profile creating the shape of a Heart.
After more than 30 years years of fronting that Seattle-based band with her sister Nancy, Ann Wilson is stepping out from that history with today’s release of her first solo album, “Hope & Glory.”
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The album is a collection of socially conscious covers performed with the likes of Sir Elton John, Lucinda Williams, Alison Krauss, Rufus Wainwright and Shawn Colvin. It was produced by Ben Mink, best-known for his collaborations with k.d. lang, who also sings with Wilson on the album.
Wilson sings alone on the closer, “Little Problems, Little Lies,” which she also wrote.
“I just didn’t want to haul out and make a solo album,” Wilson, 57, said over the phone from a tour stop in San Francisco one recent afternoon. “I wanted to wait for the right idea, the right producer.” Still, when both came, Wilson wasn’t entirely prepared. Stepping away from her sister made her feel vulnerable, but at the same time, invigorated.
“I am used to working with Nancy,” she said. “It’s an artistic friendship that has been going a long time and is really empowering. “I just don’t understand what it’s like to be all on me,” she said. “I’m not used to saying, ‘I,’ because it’s always been ‘we.’ So doing this solo album has been a really big experience for me.”
And yet, it was time for Ann Wilson to break out on her own, said Sue Ennis, who has co-written many of Heart’s hits.
“People have been urging her from the third album on,” she said.
The struggle was to find a way to differentiate Wilson’s sound from Heart’s. Mink, Ennis said, “is the ideal producer” who crafted an album that she calls “heartful.” No pun intended.
“That’s the word I keep coming back to every time I listen to it,” she said. “It’s hopeful, it’s joyful.”
And it reminds listeners of Wilson’s status not only as a rock institution — 30 million records sold, 21 Top 40 hits — but as one of the most powerful and unmistakable voices in the business.
Ann Wilson grew up a Marine Corps kid, and when the family settled in Seattle, she joined an all-male band called White Heart. The band changed its name to Heart in 1974, when Nancy Wilson succumbed to her sister’s urging and joined as a guitarist. Their first album, “Dreamboat Annie,” was released in 1976, and bore signature singles “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You,” which were followed by Top 40 hits that stretched into the 1990s.
Since then, Wilson has done everything from cartoon voiceovers (Adam Sandler’s “Eight Crazy Nights”) to performing on “The Captain and Tennille” show in 1977. (Toni Tennille gave her books about reading food labels in grocery stores. Go figure.)
Ann Powers, the chief pop critic for the Los Angeles Times, thinks Wilson’s influence on music has been underrated.
“Heart is so singular, and we forget how many women have really made an impact on mainstream rock,” Powers said. Women have been strong in alternative rock, she said, citing Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde.
“But hard rock, you can count them on one hand, and Ann Wilson is No. 1 , along with Janis Joplin. It’s that voice; that clean, clear tone.”
Wilson’s command of hard rock — she can channel Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant like nobody else — with a soothing, feminine voice, set the standard for a generation of female singers.
Among those that claim Wilson as an influence are country singers Gretchen Wilson and Wynonna Judd.
“It’s not confined to women, though,” Wilson added. “Many men listened to ‘Barracuda’ and wanted to do something like it.”
Heart is now pulling out the classics on a tour that kicked off in Seattle on Aug. 23 at the Wamu Theater.
Much of the audience were the same folks who bought “Dreamboat Annie” as an LP. There was gray hair and kids in tow and the best kind of creases in their faces. They snatched up Heart T-shirts and programs (“I don’t need to look at it,” one woman said to the cashier. “I just want it.”). But would they buy Ann without Nancy?
Said Jan Breen, 59, of Redmond: “I appreciate any of these people who just keep going and keep us old people entertained.”
Heart did that, opening with “Magic Man,” followed by a series of hits. All the while, Wilson strutted in a long, black velvet jacket and black thick-buckled boots.
“OK, next month is a very special day for me,” and then told them about the release of “Hope & Glory.”
Not to worry, she assured them, “The band’s not breaking up here.” Wilson is aware that some might wonder about her recording alone — and also about her performing cover songs so closely associated with other artists. “A lot of those songs mean a lot to people, and it was a big deal to invite scrutiny,” she said. “But I think it’s a collection of songs that when you put them all together, they are very powerful and speak with one voice.”
Wilson keeps her pipes healthy with her must-have: “unending” jars of sago palm vitamin C. She takes three 1,500 mg capsules when she gets up, three more in the afternoon, two before the show and one more before she does to bed. And every show is followed by a glass of red wine.
“What I do every night really beats up my throat,” Wilson said. “I’ve done the vitamin C for years, and I don’t have any bad effects.”
She is also focused on quality of life, happy to spend time at home in Seattle with her daughter, Marie, 16, and son, Dustin, 9, who have always joined her on the road — except when they’re in school.
“My son really loves it, but Marie has been going to Heart shows since she was a baby,” Wilson said. “She’s seen one Heart show, she’s seen them all.”
But the girl is taken with “the romance of the hippie culture,” her mother said, so she had to go to a Heart show at the Monterey Fairgrounds in California, where Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire onstage long ago.
“For her to see that burn spot was a big deal,” Wilson said with a laugh.
Her passions? Music, her family, her animals, and cooking, she said.
“I have a couple of good chops in the kitchen,” she said. (Did she mention her rosemary chicken?)
“I am a single mother, so there is hardly any time for other things,” said Wilson, who never married. “I put all of myself in whatever I do, music or parenting. I guess you could call that my passion: My family.”
Make no mistake, though: “Hope & Glory” is no twilight effort. Ann Wilson still has lots of rocking to do.
“We are consciously choosing to keep going and make a new Heart record next year and turn over new ground,” she said. “That’s really what gets me off.”
Nicole Brodeur: 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org