It only took 46 years for Nancy Wilson to get around to making her first full-fledged solo studio album. Fact is, the bulk of Wilson’s recording and performing career since the pioneering female-led rock band Heart’s debut album Dreamboat Annie first made waves in 1975 has been spent playing guitar and singing alongside her sister, multi-octave vocalist extraordinaire Ann Wilson. During that timespan, Nancy has been able to carve out some time to compose film scores, spearhead the occasional Heart side project The Lovemongers with aforementioned sister Ann, launch the soul-inflected Roadcase Royale rock collective with onetime Prince protégé Liv Warfield at the vocal helm in 2017, and even release an acoustified one-off live set performed at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California, albeit back in 1999. But the 12-track statement piece dubbed You and Me (Carry On Music) is truly the first time Wilson has been able to put her own name front and center on an original studio LP marquee.
“The condition this world is in right now enabled a sort of forced introspection to create, if you will. And the creative space is a good place to go to if you’re in lockdown during a pandemic and there’s no touring or other hard business to do—and no Heart vortex to get sucked into,” the ever-genial Wilson says with a laugh. “The lockdown has definitely been the perfect time for me to close off and dream up a new album. It’s been a blessing inside a curse.”
Mainly recorded in a home studio located above the garage in Wilson’s Northern California home, You and Me balances astutely heartfelt—pun intended—originals (the controlled resignation of “Walk Away,” the dreamy fingerstyle reverie of “We Meet Again”) alongside some choice, hand-selected covers. Said covers include Wilson’s poignant duet on Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” with (yes) Sammy Hagar gamely tackling the angelic Art Garfunkel role, and a singular twist on Bruce Springsteen’s epic “The Rising” that shifts its male resolve over to a more nurturing and aspirational POV, given the song’s now-female perspective. When it comes to the overall content of You and Me, Wilson decrees, “Expect the unexpected!”
Though Heart topped the charts when Nancy took the lead vocal reins for their first No. 1 single, “These Dreams,” in early 1986, Wilson felt the need to improve her singing chops in order to properly headline You and Me. Enter Sue Ennis, a lifelong writing partner for both Wilson sisters. “Sue’s a really great vocal coach because I approach singing as a player more than as a singer,” Nancy admits. “And she’s given me the best tips. She’ll say, ‘I feel like you’re trying to push it or prove it more than you need to here. You don’t want to sound like you’re trying to come up to the Heart level of vocalizing—you want to tell your story and be more interior with it, instead of taking it too big.’”
Ennis’ guidance has greatly assisted Nancy in better defining her own vocal lane. “I’m not gonna compare myself to my sister, because there is no comparison,” she acknowledges. “Nobody can compare to that voice. It’s something I’ve gradually come to terms with in my own image of myself as a singer. But we do have that certain sisterly blend—that sibling kind of vocal blend like The Bee Gees had—even though we can also sound different in different song situations.”
With decades of singing and harmonizing under her belt, Wilson recognizes her strengths. “I’ve finally come to understand more of what my persona as a singer is, which is more about storytelling,” she notes. “It’s more like being a character actor in a movie, because the character of who’s telling the story doesn’t have to be Ethel Merman or some other huge powerhouse singer. It’s more about which story you’re telling, and how you tell it. It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it.”