Music Review: Heart - Strange Euphoria (3 CD/1 DVD Box Set)

This career-spanning collection was personally curated by Ann and Nancy Wilson.

By , Contributor

There have been Heart compilations in the past, but none as extensive as Strange Euphoria. For the first time ever, Ann and Nancy Wilson have personally selected the tracks, digging deep into their archive of demos and live material. Of the 51 tracks spread across three CDs, 21 are previously unreleased. The extensive liner notes are comprised of track-by-track commentary written by the Wilson sisters. The DVD contains a concert taped for Washington State University’s KWSU-TV in early 1976, right around the release of Heart’s debut album, Dreamboat Annie.

The three CDs are arranged in roughly chronological order. Highlights on the first disc include intimate demos of ‘70s hits like “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You,” and “Dog & Butterfly.” Killer live versions of “White Lightning and Wine” (from a 1976 show at the Aquarius Tavern in Seattle) and “Barracuda” (originally broadcast by the BBC in ’78, but recorded at L.A.’s Universal Amphitheatre in ’77) are also strong inclusions. “It’s a lesser-known fact that Ann plays guitar well,” states Nancy in the liner notes, offering a demo of “Here Song” as evidence. A rocking, full-band demo of “Heartless” boasts a spirited vocal by Ann, which Nancy notes was influenced by Elton John.

While the second disc starts out with a string of seven previously available tracks (the first four all from 1980’s Bebe le Strange), it moves into new-to-disc material with a basement demo of “Lucky Day” recorded with co-writer Lisa Dalbello. Next comes one of the collections very best moments, a live version of “Never” recorded in 1994 at Seattle’s The Backstage, featuring John Paul Jones on mandolin. In the liner notes, Nancy Wilson calls it the “best version” of the song.

Disc three expands the collection beyond strictly Heart tunes. A trio of songs by Ann and Nancy’s side project, The Lovemongers, graces the disc, including the gorgeous, previously unreleased live performance of “Friend Meets Friend.” Nancy Wilson is featured solo on a track from her 1999 album Live at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, while Ann’s solo efforts are represented by “Little Problems, Little Lies,” from her 2007 album Hope & Glory. The previously unreleased live tune “Love or Madness” was recorded during the 1999 Ann and Nancy Live Tour. Nancy’s blues-drenched harmonica playing on this track makes it one of the coolest on the entire set. “She Still Believes” in another unreleased live performance from the same tour.

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Choosing such an early, obscure concert for the DVD was a slam dunk. Rather than go with a stadium show from later in their career, the KWSU-TV broadcast features the band just as they were first breaking out, before they were a household name. That wouldn’t matter as much if the performance wasn’t up to snuff, but that’s not the case. This is a terrific show, taped in front of a small audience. Who knows if any of them realized they were witnessing the beginning of a superstar career, but it’s doubtful anyone left disappointed.

One caveat bears mention, though nothing big enough to deter fans from picking up this set. There is room on the CDs for more material. Not to be greedy, but I find it somewhat odd that some hits are included (either in album, demo, or live form) while others are completely MIA. “Never,” “These Dreams,” and “Alone” are all accounted for, so why not “What About Love?” It would’ve also been nice to have the album versions of early hits like “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You” to go along with the demos. As generous as the selection is, there was room to make Strange Euphoria even more comprehensive.

A word to the wise, the version available from Amazon includes a fourth CD, which is an EP called Zeppish. The disc contains five Led Zeppelin covers, including previously unreleased recordings of “Going to California” (from 2008) and “What Is and What Should Never Be” (recorded in 1994 with John Paul Jones). This extra 24 minutes of music make this version the one to seek out.

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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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