The Ann Wilson Thing – Focus #2 (EP)
It’s bracing to hear artists from Ann Wilson’s generation who truly embody the phrase age is just a number. No talk here about Ann defying her age. The same passion and skill defining her career is in full effect on her latest solo release, an EP entitled Focus #2. Wilson is not bashful about acknowledging her influences and admiration for contemporaries. Focus #2 features a little of that with her covers of Jimi Hendrix and Peter Gabriel. Both are stellar, but the real attraction for long time Wilson fans likely lies in the two new original compositions featured on the release. The four tracks compromising Focus #2 are recorded with great care and the live songs, both of the covers, do fantastic jobs of capturing a wildly supportive live audience who Wilson and her band clearly feed off of. This is a release that doesn’t deserve to fly under your radar despite its relatively brief link – every song here is a home run.
The first shot of brilliance comes with her cover of “Manic Depression”. If anything, Wilson manages to invest the lyrics and match the instrumental attack with a bluesy growl Hendrix could never muster. The band sounds quite inspired and tears through the song’s churning, note piled atop note, riff and their energy level obviously bleeds over into Wilson’s own performance. It isn’t difficult to imagine her stalking the stage throughout, both hands wrapped around the mic, and leaning into each phrase with everything she had. The comparative sleepiness of the first original song, “Fighten fer Life”, isn’t any sort of jarring shift. The fluid instrumental runs, solidly pieced together songwriting, and Wilson’s steady and stellar vocal make this an unified and lasting musical experience. Despite a bevy of tricks and lifetime of experience at her disposal, there’s never any sense that Wilson takes the cheap route with these songs. Every new track sounds like the first song on her first recording ever – engaged, excited, and fully intent on communicating with her audience.
Her cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” is, naturally, much more restrained than the Hendrix number opening the EP. The song demands a little more restructuring than the preceding cover, but Wilson and her collaborators tackle the problem without even a hint of uncertainty. The song, in Wilson’s hands, becomes a star vehicle for her voice and she never disappoints. Her phrasing, like all great veteran singers, has carried her to heights the young Ann Wilson would have never dreamed of and it makes this performance, arguably, one of the finest recorded moments from the second half of her career. “Anguish” ends Focus #2 on a highly dramatic note with bruising blues guitar and a white-knuckled vocal bursting with passion. Ann Wilson hits all of her marks and then some on Focus #2, ranging across different styles with the same unshakable confidence defining her musical journey thus far. This is one of the year’s most impressive short form releases by far.
9 out of 10 stars.
LISTEN TIDAL – https://listen.tidal.com/album/63032885