The Ann Wilson Thing – Focus #2 (EP)
Ann Wilson has nothing left to prove. Her long service to music fans around the world as lead singer and songwriter in the band Heart earned her countless fans and devotees, along with fulsome critical praise, and a long overdue re-evaluation of the band’s career and talents resulted in their recent induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She has scored big with other outside projects, but her recent work under the banner of The Ann Wilson Thing has resulted in two wonderfully concise, but very memorable EP recordings that touch on the past while looking towards an ever creative tomorrow. Some artists view this half of their careers as a period of consolidation, slowing down, and you can hear the resulting lull in artistic energy. Not so with Wilson. Focus #2 is a four song collection solidly attesting to Ann Wilson’s continuing creativity and exploratory spirit.
Jimi Hendrix covers usually don’t work. The more idiosyncratic the artist, the harder it becomes to satisfy anyone with credible versions of their songs. Ann Wilson, however, tears through his classic track “Manic Depression” as if she never heard the man’s name and the song belonged to her alone. There’s no self-consciousness here, nothing too reverential. Instead, she fires through the verses backed by crack musicians willing to follow her anywhere. There’s an equal lack of self-consciousness in the band performance as well – it thankfully eschews dropping too many Hendrix-isms into the mix in a hamfisted attempt to copy like so many other players are wont to do. Guitarist Craig Bartok, instead, harnesses the riff like a wild boar and lays into it with subtle shadings that will entertain many. Bartok’s influence weighs heavy on the release. The first of the EP’s two original compositions, “Fighten fer Life”, is co-written with the guitarist and his astonishing diversity on the instrument is illustrated here with fluency and lyricism. Wilson matches the lyricism with her own sensitive and quietly resolute reading of the song./
The same sensitivity and resoluteness informs her cover of “Don’t Give Up”. Wilson doesn’t let it challenge her in any meaningful way that Gabriel’s original is a duet – her phrasing and attention to detail is more than enough to overcome any limitations experienced from one voice singing instead of two. The band’s backing performance is particularly superb thanks to their ability to lay back and enter with great timing. The second of Wilson’s two songwriting collaborations with guitarist Craig Bartok, “Anguish”, brings Focus #2 to close on a surprisingly brash, assertive note. Wilson’s voice and his six string explosiveness makes for a memorable one-two punch, but it achieves its final effects honestly. The lyrical content, vocal performance, and music alike never pander to the worst expectations of listener and instead simply use a reliable vehicle, the blues, to deliver one last great performance for listeners. Focus #2 is an uniquely substantial EP release and a fully satisfying experience. It never attempts to overreach, the performances are uniformly tasteful yet compelling, and the track selection and sequencing are ideal.
9 out of 10 stars.
Heart Website: https://www.heart-music.com/news?n_id=1184