Ann Wilson – The Ann Wilson Thing! #2 (review)

Ann Wilson – The Ann Wilson Thing! #2 – Focus (Rounder) review

One of the greatest vocalists of our time explores her darker side

While in the midst of one of the darkest political seasons in our nation’s history, Ann Wilson seems to have captured the prevailing mood with the release of The Ann Wilson Thing! #2, a four-song EP, and a followup to last year’s debut.  The quartet of tracks, aptly subtitled “Focus,”  all deal with some kind of grief or disappointment.

The set leads with fellow-Seattle native Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.”  While the late guitarist used this track as a way to wail with his axe, Wilson digs deeper into the lyrics, stretching in ways only hinted at in the original.  Her band lays down a taut, hard blues backing that provides an excellent springboard for her cathartic delivery.

The other cover song here is “Don’t Give Up,” originally by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush.  Wilson acknowledges that this is normally sung as a duet, but honestly you don’t miss the second singer.  While the previous version was synth-heavy, this revamp is stripped-down, and fueled by a meaty, repeating bassline.  Again, the tone seems darker, more desperate than the original.

The remaining two songs are co-written by Wilson and guitarist Craig Bartok.  “Fighten Fer Life” is a moody piece featuring guitar, light percussion and a surprising accordion.  “Anguish” is a blues stomper with acoustic slide guitar that is reminiscent of Zeppelin’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

Heart’s music through the years has mostly been upbeat, or at least hopeful.  That’s what makes the tracks on Ann Wilson Thing! #2 so interesting – there’s a lot of disappointment here; something we all can relate to.  A full album exploring these themes might’ve been too much, so four songs is a perfect length.

This EP comes hot on the heels of Beautiful Broken, another fine album by her band Heart.  Normally, you wouldn’t release two new recordings so close to each other, but this is the same artist who issued a studio album, a box set and an autobiography in a single year – so when you’re on an unprecedented hot streak, what the hell, right?  The Ann Wilson Thing! #2 shows off a darker side to the highly-decorated singer.  We’ll be anticipating what she comes up with for #3.  —Tony Peters