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RIDGEFIELD — Make no mistake, The Ann Wilson Thing, the 2016 first solo tour featuring the voice of Heart, was not disappointing, even though hard core fans likely longed to hear even one song from the prolific classic rock band’s catalog.
The good news is, Heart devotees now have something to look forward to when Wilson hits the stage at The Ridgefield Playhouse on August 22 with her current tour which, she told The Newtown Bee, features a new package of cover songs, a couple of new original solo compositions, and a few Heart numbers that will be very familiar, even though they have been somewhat reworked for her new band.
Recent shows from the beginning of this Ann Wilson of Heart tour include major hits from her “old” band including “What About Love” (actually a Heart cover of a song originally recorded by the Canadian group Toronto), “Barracuda,” a powerful version of “Crazy On You,” and the frenetic “A Million Miles,” from Heart’s album Fanatic.
She is blending those among an eclectic selection of other hits from The Who, Peter Gabriel, Yes, The Black Crowes, Jimi Hendrix, The Animals, and Buffalo Springfield, along with classics from Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin, all showcasing the powerful pipes and richly toned vocal stylings Wilson has been known for since she and her sister Nancy debuted Dreamboat Annie in 1976 and never looked back.
Coincidentally, on the morning of Wilson’s interview, The Bee was able to break the news to her about that seminal album being named among NPR’s new “Turning the Tables” celebration of the top 150 albums made by women, being ranked at a respectable 44 on the list.
According to an advance, the Ann Wilson of Heart Tour is simply the next step of Wilson’s journey. It’s the step that puts it all together.
Joining Wilson — not backing — are Craig Bartock on guitar (a Heart member for a dozen years, who also performed in The Ann Wilson Thing), Andy Stoller on bass (also The Ann Wilson Thing bassist), and Denny Fongheiser on drums and percussion (a member of Heart for two years during the 1990s).
“The stage is a magical place where I can be beautifully in and out of control, where I can build a fire and then jump into it,” said the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend known for her force-of-nature vocals. “The stage is where I have always lived; where I’ve expressed my deepest emotions and supreme joys.
“I suppose I am addicted to it,” Wilson continued. “I’ve never been much good at talking, but I can sing, and when I sing I connect with people in a much deeper, higher way.”
She said the tour was strategically named “to give people a point of recognition; to help people understand who I am and where I came from. Ann Wilson of Heart is what I have been preparing for all my life.
“The time is right, and I’m ready.”
Upon learning she was chosen among the ranks of female musicians for the “Turning the Tables” project, Wilson revealed that her Ridgefield audience will have a chance to hear material from Dreamboat Annie when she takes the stage on August 22.
“We’re doing ‘Crazy on You,’ but it’s a bit of a different version than I normally do,” Wilson said. “It’s got an a capella introduction, but I think that it’s one song that really stands the test of time.”
Coincidentally, Wilson also recently created and blogged a Top Ten list of her own favorite live albums, which included the classic Deep Purple concert disc Made In Japan.
“There’s a lot of cool stuff on that album, but I always used to like the version of ‘Highway Star’ with Ian Gillan,” she said.
Talking about surrounding herself with more Heart alumni on the current tour, Wilson singled out drummer Denny Fongheiser, saying, “He’s one who is able to go to more different places musically. He played on our album The Road Home. He’s a super sophisticated musician.
“On keyboards, I’ve brought on Dan Walker, who is from Seattle and he’s just brilliant,” she said. “He’s never been on a tour of this level before. So it’s all new for him. I told him when he joined to not be shy, just do whatever comes to you. And every night he just blows me away.”
Wilson said that she is about a third of the way in to creating brand-new material for a possible future solo album project.
“So far I’ve finished ‘Fool No More,’ ‘Anguish,’ and ‘Fighting For Life,’ and there are about three more that are done but I haven’t recorded them yet,” she said. “I think ‘Fighting For Life’ is my favorite to perform so far. It’s got a real coffeehouse groove to it, and because my guitarist, Craig Bartock, plays some really stunning acoustic guitar. It’s me singing in a different style — it’s not Ann turning it up to 11. It showcases a lot more of what i can do. I think it’s probably got some of the lowest notes in my range on that one, and a more gentle, sultry style, which I really appreciate getting to do.”
Wilson said the song was written for her husband Dean Wetter.
“It’s about a person who is just wide awake and mindful — almost like an anarchist. He walks through life and just lights up every room, so I had to write a song about that guy,” she said. “I think it’s gotten a little unhip to see yourself as vulnerable, to be head over heels in love. I see so much out there about being proud and stoic, and if somebody is in your life and crosses you, you’re just supposed to walk away. But that’s never going to be me… never. I’m absolutely a true romantic, always will be.”
As conversation turned to Wilson’s selection of new cover material for the new tour, she talked about beginning to crack the progressive rock genre by doing “Your Move,” the melodic intro to “All Good People,” one of the most popular songs from the group Yes.
“I’ll tell you the truth; the more progressive the song is, the harder it is to cover and really do it justice,” she said. “There’s a lot of deconstruction going on in progressive rock, and Yes is able to do stuff like ‘Close to the Edge,’ and the songs on Tales From Topographic Oceans, that are extremely complex and brilliant. You know, these are creations from a mechanical, mathematical mind. I would really like to cover more progressive material, I really would.”
Audiences are embracing Wilson as a solo artist to the extent that she has two more full legs of the current tour already scheduled well into the fall.
“It’s been an amazing year,” she said. “It started out with just a small vision that was The Ann Wilson Thing, and then as it expanded and evolved, people are sort of coming to church, you know. It’s been really thrilling for me and really satisfying. I wanted to use touring to get out of a state of numbness, and I really have!”
Get tickets ($90) to Ann Wilson at The Ridgefield Playhouse Tuesday, August 22, at 8 pm by calling 203-438-5795 or visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org. The Ridgefield Playhouse is a nonprofit performing arts center located at 80 East Ridge.
Check out Ann Wilson’s solo take on the Heart favorite, “Alone”:
Ann Wilson mixes it up covering “Your Move” by Yes, and The Black Crowes “She Talks to Angels” during an April 2017 show in Glenside, PA