It has been 11 years since Heart released a new studio album, but Ann and Nancy Wilson, the Seattle sisters who founded and led the band, haven't spent the past decade lying around the swimming pool. They've released two live albums and three anthologies as Heart and two studio albums under the name of their alter-ego acoustic band, the Lovemongers. Ann also toured the world in a Beatles tribute, while Nancy scored three movies ("Jerry Maguire," "Almost Famous" and "Vanilla Sky") directed by her husband, Cameron Crowe.
The last credit is the most relevant to the new album, "Jupiter's Darling," for Nancy has matured into an accomplished composer, arranger and producer, and she uses all three skills to update the Heart sound. The basics haven't changed; Ann still wails like a soprano Robert Plant, and Nancy still flails at her guitar like a Jimmy Page wannabe. But now the chord changes are more interesting; the background parts are more inventive, and everything is more carefully pieced together. Darian Sahanaja, Brian Wilson's music director, moonlights as the Heart's keyboardist, and guest guitar breaks are added by Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell and Pearl Jam's Mike McCready.
Unfortunately, neither Ann nor Nancy is much of a lyricist. Hackneyed couplets such as, "Make me high; make me low; make it stop or, come on, let the damn thing go," from the lead-off track "Make Me," are all too typical of the album. You're better off ignoring the words and appreciating Nancy's Beatlesque harmonies and push-and-pull rhythms beneath "The Perfect Goodbye" or her string chart for Chuck Prophet's song, "No Other Love."
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Friday at DAR Constitution Hall. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Heart, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8124. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)