Ann Wilson, ‘Fierce Bliss': Album Review
Ann Wilson has never cared to play by other people's rules. The Heart singer has weathered all sorts of showbiz sleaze over the past half-century, swatting away sexist fans and industry veterans at the onset of her career, making "Faustian bargains" to cement a meteoric mid-'80s comeback and helping younger bands navigate the pitfalls of fame at the dawn of the grunge revolution. Wilson has triumphed over decades of adversity and emerged stronger, wiser and more steadfast because of it. Riding out the twilight of her career with nostalgia tours and royalty checks for song-doctored smashes was never an option.
This defiance and clarity of purpose drive Wilson's third solo album, Fierce Bliss, a scorching collection of original tunes and classic-rock covers that pays deference to the singer's forebears and contemporaries. The title is no misnomer: Wilson's joy and confidence are palpable as she tears into these 11 songs with the same gusto she had on Heart's star-making 1975 debut, Dreamboat Annie.
Wilson's stratospheric vocals positioned her as heir apparent to Robert Plant's throne in those days — no easy bar to clear nearly 50 years later. But Fierce Bliss requires no grading on a curve. Wilson comes out swinging on album opener "Greed," oscillating between a tender croon and gravelly, high-pitched wail, which frays delightfully in the song's final moments. She flexes gritty bravado on up-tempo rockers, including an excellent cover of Eurythmics' "Missionary Man," and she lends searing desperation to slow-burning blues epics like "Black Wing" and "Angel's Blues."
Fierce Bliss boasts a cadre of world-class collaborators as well. Honorary Eagle Vince Gill lends his crystalline voice to a cover of Queen's "Love of My Life," preserving the elegant beauty of the original as Wilson's husky vocal runs and a muscular arrangement push it into bluesier territory. The singer also recruits top-notch guitar sparring partners in Gov't Mule cofounder Warren Haynes and blues maestro Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The former lays down crunchy, yearning solos on the six-minute opuses "Gladiator" and "Angel's Blues," while the latter delivers a breathtaking performance on a rendition of Robin Trower's "Bridge of Sighs" that not only serves as the centerpiece of Fierce Bliss but gives the original a run for its money.
Perhaps the most refreshing part of Fierce Bliss is that it finds Wilson operating at the peak of her powers while looking back on her illustrious career with a mixture of hard-earned wisdom and wry amusement. "Hey, an accidental hit / That's some transcendental shit / Reach back down into the well / Recreate the magic spell," she sings on the swaggering, autobiographical "A Moment in Heaven." "Same toy / Same lube / Same heat / Second one’s just not as sweet." Ouch. A career that tumultuous would hobble a lesser musician, but Wilson is still standing — and Fierce Bliss isn't just the work of a music industry survivor. It's a thundering statement from a hardened prizefighter who sounds ready to go another 10 rounds.