Heart – Greatest Hits (1998; 2011 Audio Fidelity Remaster)

The distractions when it comes to Heart (gender politics, obvious curtsies to Led Zeppelin, wall-to-wall 1980s power-ballads, etc.) are swept away with this single turned-up-to-11 instrumental interlude during “Magic Man.”

I’m struck all over again by guitarist Roger Fisher’s ever-increasing distortion, just before a smeared prog rock-influenced keyboard descends from the heavens. Reportedly caused by the natural deterioration of a blown guitar amp, the sound begins to take on a ragged life of its own as this sparkling new 24-karat Audio Fidelity remaster spins. Heart’s “Magic Man” (a No. 9 hit in 1976) has, right there inside of it, this brilliant piece of in-the-moment, well, magic — unlikely to happen again in the age of auto-tune, but buried for decades in a muddy pre-digital mix.

Now, this small joy has been spit-shined into a revelatory moment, and it’s almost worth the price of admission itself. This band, you quickly realize all over again, wasn’t led by a couple of Girls Who Rocked. They were, simply, rockers. And very good ones, at that.

“Barracuda” went to No. 11 in 1977 with its harrumphing riff and herd-of-horses rhythm, powered perhaps by nothing more than its broad homage to Zeppelin — in particular “Achilles Last Stand.” You hear something else here, as the tune is transformed into this spacious, very specific delight. Fisher, maybe for the first time ever, can be heard plucking and plinking in between the song’s familiar guitar signature, girding himself for another in a series of scalding runs. It’s like being inside his muse.

Afterwards, the one pasted below sounds like it’s being played from the other side of a down comforter.

Further in, there’s a sharp detail to the scroungy blues of “Little Queen,” which now seems deeply underrated, and to the touchy-feely folk of “Dog and Butterfly,” which is a little more precious than I remembered. The vocal interplay between Ann and Nancy Wilson is striking, too.

Up until 1998, Heart had somehow never been featured in a proper hits package showcasing their late-1970s hitmaking period, something to remind folks of the rollicking force of rockers like “Crazy on You” or the hippie-chick acoustic material like “Dreamboat Annie” and “Love Alive.” Greatest Hits also includes “Heartless,” an operatic remake of “Tell It Like It Is” (a surprise No. 8 hit in 1980), “Kick It Out,” “Bebe le Strange,” “Straight On” and the Rolling Stones-ish “Even It Up,” as well as two bonus cuts — a live cover of Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” from 1980 and a then-new studio cut, the so-so Diane Warren-penned “Strong, Strong Wind.”

By the turn of the decade, however, Heart’s sales had begun to sag — something reflected in the song selection on Greatest Hits. Though it spans the period from 1976-83, all but two of the 17 tracks are from 1980 or before. Still, there is a glimpse of the mainstream popcraft that would follow (collected in a subsequent volume titled Greatest Hits: 1985-1995): The Top 50 power-ballad hit “How Can I Refuse,” from 1983′s Passionworks, sounds like an outtake from the band’s subsequent charttopping self-titled 1985 release.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.

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