With her band Heart, Nancy Wilson has recorded 16 albums and sold over 35 million albums worldwide. Within that history-making career, You and Me represents something special, as it is Nancy Wilson’s very first solo studio album.
“Being off the road last year from touring with Heart, and at home with my good guitars and amps out,” she says, “I felt like I was once again able to reconnect with my pre-Heart self, my college-girl self, creating poetic, intimate and romantic songs, which pretty much is what I first brought in to Heart.”
You and Me was primarily recorded in Wilson’s California home studio, working with band members special guests remotely. Most of the tracks are originals, but Wilson decided to include a handful of covers by a few of her favorites, including a female perspective of Pearl Jam’s “Daughter,” a stirring turn of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” featuring Sammy Hagar, and an ethereal cover of the Cranberries “Dreams,” featuring Liv Warfield from Nancy’s previous band Roadcase Royale.
The first single from the album was Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” which dropped last fall. “During this horrific time in the world, with all this enduring loss, it seemed like the right time for an aspirational song about hope and perseverance,” Wilson says.
The other eight tracks are originals, mostly acoustic ballads, but there are also some rousing rockers like “Party at the Angel Ballroom” which features a superstar backing band, including Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters. “I can’t wait to play this song live,” Wilson says, “or at least make a wild video with those guys.” She jokingly calls the band “the lab,” given the demands of Zoom-era remote recording with players in different cities.
The title track “You and Me,” as with several of the songs on the album, reunites Wilson with longtime collaborator Sue Ennis, who co-wrote many of Heart’s classics with Nancy, and sister Ann. “I’ve known Sue since I was 12,” Nancy says. “Back then she was a high school friend of Ann’s. We’ve always worked well together.”
That songwriting bond is obvious on “You and Me,” which highlights the intimate feel of the album. Nancy’s singing is forward in the mix, her voice is spare, and the minimal production makes it feel like she’s right there in the same room with you. “I really love singing lead and harmony,” Nancy says, “but I used to be much more self-conscious about singing lead. On this album I sang every song, even in this little sequestered band of Heart veterans.”
Wilson says her vocal style was greatly influenced by sister Ann. “When trying to feel good enough compared to Ann - which no one can do - she advised me not to stress about the pitch or the perfection,” Nancy said. “She told me ‘Just tell the story, like you’re talking, and don’t stress the details.’ That advice was the perfect perspective I took with me for making this record.”
Much of You and Me follows that conversational style, particularly the tender ballads “We Meet Again,” “I’ll Find You,” and “The Inbetween.” Wilson says she could see some of these songs making it into a Heart set in the future. But one song on You and Me may already be familiar to fans. “The Dragon” is Nancy’s tribute to Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, and a song she first started when Staley was alive, and she could see him “headed down the dark ladder.” The song didn’t work for Heart at the time, she thought, and although it was first released on Roadcase Royale’s album, First Things First, Wilson says this new version is a perfect fit here.
If loss, love, and redemption are central themes of You and Me, the album ends with a song that captures that full spectrum in one instrumental coda. Titled “4 Edward,” it is Nancy’s tribute to Eddie Van Halen, whose 2020 loss looms over music.
Nancy came to know Eddie when Heart toured with Van Halen, and she once asked him why he didn’t play acoustic. “I don’t have one,” he told her, which she immediately rectified. Eddie took the guitar she gave him and wrote a song on it that stole Nancy’s heart. After his death last year, Nancy knew she had to return the favor, and “4 Edward” is a lullaby of sorts.
Wilson had previously released one other album with just her name on it, Live at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, which captured her playing a set of covers and new songs in 1999. But she considers this her first true solo album, a positive creative move amid a surreal year of loss; life during lock down.
“I don’t know why it took me so long to do this,” she laughs. “Maybe I was stuck in traffic, maybe I was stuck in the Heart vortex of it all.” But in a year with “no traffic,” Wilson finally found a place for the music she’s been writing in her head for decades.
And this record, like all the legendary music she’s created with Heart, ended up as an emotional intimate conversation between a musician and an audience. “Whether you’re performing onstage, or in the studio, it’s always about that relationship, and that conversation.
“It’s always been ‘you’ and ‘me.’”
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