Ann Wilson’s Tonic for the Times: ‘Fierce Bliss’

Captured by the sweeping views and wildlife along St John’s River adjacent to her Florida home, Ann Wilson found some moments of solace living in quarantine during the pandemic. The natural world was still moving and evolving outside and after watching some of the frolicking seabirds in the distance for months, Wilson began anthropomorphizing the creatures, even talking to them, then writing the slow-burning “Black Wing.”

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“I started to feel so isolated and cut off from the rest of the world that these birds started to take on a new dimension for me,” Wilson tells American Songwriter. That’s when I wrote ‘Black Wing,’ just wishing I could be up there too, able to go everywhere.”

Adapting to the forced isolation, the pandemic gave Wilson the setting she needed to write, away from the higher energy of touring. “My mind became still and peaceful, and that’s what I need to write,” says Wilson, who went on to write several more for her new album Fierce Bliss, a collection of tracks informed by isolated thoughts and covers of songs that have lingered in Wilson’s life for years.

Recorded at Sound Stage in Nashville, and featuring a collection of guest musicians including Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes, Wilson dusted in her originals on Fierce Bliss, including the bluesy haze of “Fighten for Life,” and the heavier “Angel’s Blues,” “Gladiator,” and “A Moment in Heaven,” and the closing country-tipped “As the World Turns.”

“‘As the World Turns’ was written from the same platform as ‘Crazy on You’ was where if you’re surrounded by the drama of life every day and the stresses of life, sometimes it can seem really high stress and suffocating but if you pull focus, and you come back and look at the big picture, you see that it’s really just us strutting and fretting, or our on the stage,” says Wilson. “The world is still turning and flowing.”

More politically driven “Greed” looked through the lens between the left and the right. “Politics and everything are just a prime example of greed in full swing and the materialistic nature of our culture,” says Wilson of the track. “No one’s ever satisfied with what they have. We’re just consumers. Even the war that’s happening right now in Europe is based on greed. It’s just an ugly, primal part of human nature.”

Remaining faithful to the original melody of each song, the covers on Fierce Bliss were stories that have stuck to Wilson for some time. “I like to pay tribute to the original song always because that’s the soul of the song,” shares Wilson. “I never want to try to sound like the singer.”

A longtime fan of Jeff Buckley, Wilson stayed true to Buckley’s feverish “Forget Her,” off his solo album Grace in 1994. “It’s such a heartbreaking, heart-wrenching story, and when you flip the gender around, when you become an observer watching this person walking the streets and trying to forget her but can’t, it’s just so hard,” says Wilson. “I love those really emotional, edgy songs.”

Feeling her way around the more emotive covers, Robin Trower’s 1974 song ”Bridge of Sighs,” is a track Wilson considers one of the best blues songs ever written. “It’s not just about heartbreak or being addicted or your wife two-timing you, which is what most of them are written about,” says Wilson. “It’s about standing on the abyss.”

Wilson duets with Vince Gill on the more stripped-down Queen ballad “Love of My Life,” and taps the religious rifts within the U.S. with a bigger sermon around the Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man,” featuring 40 gospel singers. “‘Missionary Man’ was about as close to politics as I got, because of the polarization between the left and right in America, and how the right way seems to be, at its heart, organized around Christian religion,” says Wilson. “What better song to cover than “Missionary Man’ and make it into a great big mega-church production.”

She adds, “I love Annie Lennox. She’s in my top five singers of all time, so I wanted to tip my hat to her in that song, but I always have to sound like myself, so it ends up being something completely different.”

Like all her songs, Heart is always a part of Wilson. “Heart is always there to evolve,” says Wilson of the band’s 50-year history. The legendary band is also the subject of an upcoming Amazon biopic, starring and directed by Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein.

“As long as Heart is growing and evolving, I’m into it,” Wilson adds. “If it sits there dormant, or if it becomes satisfied to just ride down as an old legacy act into disintegration, then I’m not that into it.”

Wilson, now 71, is steering around writing more songs and touring around Fierce Bliss and five decades of Heart classics. 

“It just keeps on rolling,” she says, “and you don’t stop.”

Photo: Courtesy of Ann Wilson / ABC PR

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