Red Velvet Car comes on (or off!) like a slinky black dress, a tickled chin-coo that occasionally forms a fist and thumps you one ’cross the kisser. It’s a sleek, compact, muscular vessel, the kind Heart used to make when it pumped thunder and crunch behind a rock-solid grill.
The album, the Wilson sisters’ first all-new studio venture since Jupiter’s Darling (2004) and their first under the Sony umbrella since Passionworks (1983), cruises past the canon misfires and market capitulations to summon the seasoned essence of what rattled eardrums and severed cortexes many Dreamboat Annies and Lovemongers ago.
Ann and Nancy Wilson don’t rock harder — Velvet’s a mostly acoustic beast — but smarter. They’ve logged some serious road time on their odometers, and they pack an education into “There You Go,” a plugged-in unplugged tumble with a heavy bass ticker (Ric Markmann, billed within as Citizenship; Ann and Nancy are Forces of Nature and Weather Systems, respectively — consult your local smitten meteorologist for details). “You’re riding so dirty, dirty and fast,” warns head belter Ann, her delivery still clear and sharp, edged with a hard-earned raggedness.
And she knows of what she sings, even when reduced to the Internet shorthand of “WTF,” a rage amplified by Nancy’s steady six-string gallop. But with her legendarily stratospheric range, Ann doesn’t project in text-message brevity; when she produces a cell phone on “Death Valley” — where all are joined by none other than Rush’s Geddy Lee (Mazel) — she pounds the following message across her sister’s leveled valleys: “Heaven forbid this place / It’s hotter than hell and I’m losing my cool / This is not of the human race.” In short: >:O.
Nancy’s hot and cool as always, whether she scalds, burns, soothes, or hums. Abetted by producer Ben Mink (Magic), she breaks out a tingling coterie of acoustic implements to kick back on a porch and address the descending sun. “Hey You” glides like lemonade over a sing-song break; “Sunflower” bends softly in an agreeable summer gust. On the previous she laments, “And the symphony is gone, gone,” but Mink-guided strings are in abundance throughout Velvet, though never intrusive. They stir, among others, the helping-hand title track, the chest-clutch of “Safronia’s Mark,” and “Sand,” the contemplation of mortality that ends the disc on a solemnly thoughtful note. “And while the days come down to you,” Ann muses in adios from a figurative driver’s seat, “you are just a traveler passing through.”
Streaks of spectral residue trail from fading tail-lights. A horizon unfolds, growing ever closer. The red velvet car is always in motion. There are bridges to cross, to burn, as the song goes. Luckily, Heart has many more miles to travel before they make that final turn.