Christine McVie by Christine McVie

December 25, 2010

Christine McVie is one of those artists I will follow anywhere. She has produced excellent music from her time with Chicken Shack, to her Christine Perfect solo album, to the blues of early Fleetwood Mac, to the masterpieces of the classic Fleetwood Mac pop lineup, and down to the present day.

During early 1984 she followed in the footsteps of her Fleetwood Mac bandmates, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and Mick Fleetwood by releasing her own self-titled solo album.

She may not have received the glamour of the Buckingham-Nicks duo, but she was the heart and soul of Fleetwood Mac for over three decades. Her melodic voice and ability to write catchy songs were some of the foundations of their sound and commercial popularity.

Christine McVie explores pop, rock, and the blues, and while it may be a little inconsistent in places, it was still an enjoyable album.

She assembled a capable group of musicians to assist her. The basic band was guitarist Todd Sharp, bassist George Hawkins, and drummer Steve Ferrone. Sharp also co-wrote seven of the ten tracks. Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Winwood, Mick Fleetwood, and Eric Clapton all make appearances on various tracks.

The album produced two top forty hits. The biggest was “Got A Hold On Me” which reached number ten on the pop chart and number one on the adult contemporary chart in The United States. It was a pop/rocker that would have fit on many of the Fleetwood Mac albums of the era. The other hit was “Love Will Show Us How” which topped out at number 30 on the pop charts. McVie’s wonderful voice is always a pleasure and here it is at its best.

The album’s best performance may be the song “Ask Anybody” which was co-written by Stevie Winwood. It is a dark and haunting tune that stays with you; plus it is a nice departure from her usual bubbly songs.

There are several other tracks of note. “One In A Million” has some nice shared vocal work by Stevie Winwood. Lindsey Buckingham is the lead guitarist on “The Smile I Live For,” which is always welcome. Clapton’s appearance on “The Challenge” could have been a little more up front but the track is fine.

It would be twenty years before she would release another solo album. Christine McVie is an album that plays to her strengths which is always welcome. It remains a comfortable listen over a quarter of a century after its release.

Article first published as Music Review: Christine McVie – Christine McVie on Blogcritics.

Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks

December 19, 2010

Stevie Nicks has had the best solo career of any member of Fleetwood Mac from their classic pop years. That career got off to a good start, July 27, 1981, when she released Bella Donna. It would top The United States album charts, produce four top forty single hits, and sell in the neighborhood of five million copies.

She used her Fleetwood Mac sound as a jumping off place. During her time with the group, they were a band that treaded the line between rock and pop. Nicks contributions may have had lyrics that were at times personal and even mythical upon occasion; her music would be in the Fleetwood Mac mainstream. She moved her solo sound in a rock direction, and this was particularly true with the hit singles. It all added up to a rock album that maintained the polish of her former work. It remains her best and most consistent solo album.

She called upon an array of friends and musicians to assist her. Tom Petty, who also co-produced the album, Don Henley of The Eagles, Roy Bittan of The E Street Band, guitarist Waddy Wachtel, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, drummer Stan Lynch, and a dozen more were all on hand.

She recorded a volume of material for the album which was reduced to the ten tracks that comprise the original release. A number of those tracks have appeared in an extended form down through the years. There were also a number of songs recorded in very stripped down versions including solo piano versions of then unreleased demos of “China Doll,” “Christian (Spinning Wheel),” and “Stay Away.” Legend has it there is still a treasure trove of unreleased material that was recorded at the time.

The album is centered on the songs that were issued as singles. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Tom Petty, “Leather and Lace” with Don Henley, “Edge Of Seventeen,” and “After The Glitter Fades” are all considered milestones in her career and form one of the better group of songs issued by a female artist on one album.

There were a number of other excellent tracks in addition to her well known hits. “Kind Of Woman” is a moody track with a haunting beauty. “Outside The Rain” is melodic and rocks. The title track is a Stevie Nicks epic. “Think About It” was written for Christine McVie who was considering leaving the group at the time.

Bella Donna remains the masterpiece of her career. While she would continue to produce solo material in the future, it would never be as consistent as here. It presents the rock side of Stevie Nicks at her best.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna on Blogcritics.

Say You Will by Fleetwood Mac

December 19, 2010

Say You Will was issued during April of 2003 and to date is Fleetwood Mac’s last studio album. It was a moderate commercial success by Fleetwood Mac standards as it reached number three on The American music charts and has sold just shy of one million copies.

The big change for the group was the departure of Christine McVie. It was their first album in three decades not to have her as an active participant. Her only contributions were on “Steel Your Heart Away” and “Bleed To Love Her” which had been previously recorded for a Lindsey Buckingham solo album.

Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham each wrote or co-wrote 9 of the albums 17 tracks. In a way, the differences in style and approach made the album seem almost like two solo albums which have been fused together into one Fleetwood Mac project.

While Buckingham and Nicks combine to create a lot of good music, Christine McVie is missed. She always occupied the middle ground and her down to earth pop inclinations were the connecter between Buckingham’s more experimental songs and Nicks’ flights of fancy. Without her, their music is more exposed and stands on its own with both positive and negative results.

Buckingham’s contributions run the gamete from pop to rock to pushing the envelope on both styles. Even when the songs may not be the best, his always underrated guitar virtuosity saves the day.

“What’s The World Coming To” is one of his better pop creations. “Murrow Turning Over In His Grave” is one of those tracks where he just shines on the guitar. “Miranda” is a reminder of his old Buckingham-Nicks duet days and has a nice funky feel. “Red Rover” has him exploring an English folk sound. While he is playing a guitar, it almost sounds like a mandolin. “Bleed To Love Her” is the studio version of the song which first appeared live on The Dance.

Stevie Nicks also creates a somewhat eclectic group of songs. “Thrown Down” is typical of her most commercial work with Fleetwood Mac as it is very good guitar based pop. “Destiny Rules” is sparse in structure but the background vocals fill in the holes. “Running Through The Garden” is a rocker with the best vocal performance on the album. The title track is another catchy pop tune.

Say You Will is an acquired taste. It does not have the consistantcy of their best work but there is some good material, if you take the time to seek it out.

Fleetwood Mac is one of those iconic groups that will continue to sell out concert halls as long as they desire to stay together and at this point any new material is a bonus for their fans.

Article first published as Music Review: Fleetwood Mac – Say You Will on Blogcritics.

The Dance by Fleetwood Mac

December 17, 2010

My wife actually listens to The Dance on a regular basis, which is the highest accolade an album can receive, at least in my universe.

Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham returned to Fleetwood Mac after a several year absence, reuniting in 1997 with Christine McVie, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood to make the group’s famous pop lineup intact once again.

The Dance was a live album released August 19, 1997, and it reached the number one position on the American album charts, selling in excess of five million copies. It ranks as one of the best-selling live albums of all time in America.

Getting a live album just right is sometimes a difficult task but Fleetwood Mac came through with flying colors. They issued a polished and sophisticated piece of work that brought new life to their material.

Buckingham and Nicks may have lost a little off of their high vocal range, but they more than get by. Christine McVie’s vocals, on the other hand, remain as they were a quarter of a century ago.

A five-minute version of “The Chain” gets the album off to a thunderous start and quickly proves there is life in the old group yet.

They are loyal to the style and original recordings of many of their hits. “Dreams,” “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me,” “You Make Loving Fun,” and “Go Your Own Way” are all instantly recognizable and well performed. Stevie Nicks’ lost classic, “Silver Springs,” is one of the album’s better tracks as she presents it with a haunting beauty.

The band created four new songs for the album. Lindsey Buckingham’s “Bleed To Love Her” is a well constructed love song that is mostly acoustic, while “My Little Demon” demonstrates just how good a guitarist he had become. If you want to hear his guitar playing at its best, just check out “I’m So Afraid.”

Stevie Nicks’ contribution, “Sweet Girl,” contains the kind of personal lyrics she had been so successful at creating in the past. “Temporary One” by Christine McVie is her signature type of bouncy pop.

The album ends with “Tusk” and “Don’t Stop,” which include The USC Marching Band. They combine to be a pair of the best closers in live album history.

The Dance was the last hurrah for Christine McVie, as she would leave the group after its release. It is a fitting memorial for the classic Fleetwood Mac pop configuration. It remains one of their essential releases.

Article first published as Music Review: Fleetwood Mac – The Dance on Blogcritics.

Time by Fleetwood Mac

December 13, 2010

During the early nineties Fleetwood Mac was in disarray. Rick Vito left after only one album with the group. The real loss was Stevie Nicks who withdrew to concentrate on her solo career, which meant no Buckingham or Nicks as a part of the band. It is a testament to Mick Fleetwood and the McVie’s that they had the resolve to keep the group going.

New members Bekka Bramlett and Dave Mason joined the band, which when combined with the other holdover Billy Burnette, brought a very different approach to the group’s sound. Bramlett was the daughter of Delaney & Bonnie of Eric Clapton Fame. Her country leanings melded well with those of Burnette and they would form a duo after leaving the group. Dave Mason was an odd choice in some ways. He is a world class guitarist but his sound and style was shaped by his former group Traffic and probably would have fit the pre-pop Fleetwood Mac better. He was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame with his former group at the 2004 induction ceremony.

Time was released October 10, 1985 and was their least successful commercial studio release as it did not even reach the album charts in The United States. The diverse personalities of the members did not mesh together, and their fan base did not respond to the disjointed nature of the album.

Christine McVie tries very hard with five songs, co-written with then husband Eddy Quintela. They may not be the best group of songs she ever produced, but they are solid pop and remain representative of her skill as a composer and singer. “Hollywood (Some Other Kind Of Town)” was an interesting throwback to her Future Games sound, but “Nights In Estoril,” “Sooner Or later,” and “I Do” are all very listenable pop songs.

I tend to think of Burnette and Bramlett as a duo and their contributions travel in a country direction which takes the group away from its strength. Bramlett is a good vocalist in her own right, but it was a stretch for her as the replacement for Stevie Nicks. Their best contribution is their own song, “Dreamin’ The Dream,” which is a gentle song which fit the bands preconceived profile well.

Dave Mason contributed two songs and he is who he is. His vocals and guitar playing are excellent and he is certainly the equal of Lindsey Buckingham, but not in this setting.

The release’s oddest track is Mick Fleetwood’s seven minute album closer, “These Strange Times.”

The album and the band just did not function as a whole in this incarnation. Bramlett, Mason, and Burnette would all be gone after touring to support the release and some old friends would return. Time remains one of the weakest albums in The Fleetwood Mac catalogue and should be explored only by hard core fans of the group.

Article first published as Music Review: Fleetwood Mac – Time on Blogcritics.

Behind The Mask by Fleetwood Mac

December 8, 2010

After over a decade of stability and massive commercial success, change was in the air for Fleetwood Mac. Lindsey Buckingham had left and been replaced by not one, but two guitarists making the group a sextet.

Rick Vito and Billy Burnette were the new members of Fleetwood Mac. While their time with the group would be fairly short, they were both seasoned musicians in their own right. Their period with the band was not appreciated by many long term fans but that is probably due to style rather than talent. Vito has been a long term stalwart of Bob Seger and his lead guitar work can be heard on many of his releases. He was a part of Bonnie Raitt’s touring band during the nineties, and has remained an in demand session guitarist. In addition he has released eight solo albums. Billy Burnette had music in his genes as he was the son of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Dorsey Burnette. He would have a successful solo career before and after his time in Fleetwood Mac, and was originally reluctant to join.

Behind The Mask was released April 10, 1990. It only reached number 18 in The United States but was a big hit in England, as it topped the album charts.

The album is not bad but didn’t measure up to the group’s best pop work. The highlights are Christine McVie’s and Stevie Nick’s contributions as they fall into the Fleetwood Mac comfort zone. Vito’s and Burnette’s contributions are well constructed and presented but not what one expected from Fleetwood Mac at the time. It all added up to a somewhat disjointed release.

I tend to like the Christine McVie songs the best as they have a consistent appeal. The title song may be dark but represented the type of sophisticated pop she had been producing for nearly twenty years. “Save Me” and “Skies The Limit” are the type of pop concoctions that one had come to expect from her.

Stevie Nicks makes a nice comeback after her desultory performance on Tango In The Night. “Love is Dangerous” is a nice funky up-tempo rocker. “Freedom” is a haunting rocker that stays with you. “The Second Time” is a nice ballad which was co-written with Vito but it bears her stamp.

Vito and Burnette create some excellent, if out of place material. I can’t help but think that if songs such as “Hard Feelings,” “In The Back Of My Mind,” and “Stand On The Rock” had been removed from the album and released in a different context, they would have faired a lot better.

Behind The Mask is very good in places but is not among the better Fleetwood Mac pop releases. Its place in the group’s catalogue is that of a filler album.

Article first published as Music Review: Fleetwood Mac – Behind The Mask on Blogcritics.

Tango In The Night by Fleetwood Mac

December 6, 2010

It had been close to five years since Fleetwood Mac had released a studio album. In the interim, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, and particularly Stevie Nicks had established successful solo careers.

Tango In The Night actually began as a Buckingham solo project that eventually expanded into a full-blown Fleetwood Mac album, although many of Buckingham’s tracks featured him without much participation by the other members of the group. The album would only reach number seven in the United States but would spawn four top twenty singles. Worldwide, it would become the second most commercially successful album of their career, selling more copies than all of their releases except Rumours. It was also the last studio album to feature their classic pop line-up.

Tango In The Night is an album of high points that mainly center on their hit singles, and they are representative of their pop sound at its best. It is also an album of average songs, though, which means the album is memorable in places but not consistent enough to rank with their best work.

McVie created the best group of songs. “Little Lies,” which reached number four, is elegant pop with enough hooks to keep you coming back for more. “Everywhere” was another hit single with wonderful harmonies. This love ballad contained one of her finer vocals. “Mystified” was another ballad written with Buckingham that bears her stamp. “Isn’t It Midnight,” also co-written with Buckingham, is about as hard as this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac rocks. It’s nice to hear her provide a different type of vocal.

Nicks only created three offerings. She was dealing with a cocaine addiction and rehab at the time and only one of her songs lived up to her past high standards. “Seven Wonders” is a nice mid-tempo rocker with solid group harmonies in support. It would be a deserved hit single. Her other two songs were not as lucky. “Welcome To The Room…Sara” needs to be understood within the context of her rehab at the time as it has an overall depressing feel. “Will I See You Again” is a song of relationships and longing, territory Nicks had covered before and better.

Buckingham contributed the most tracks, though with mixed results. “Big Love” reached number five on the singles charts and is catchy pop with some nice guitar work. Many of his other contributions are excellent musically but are ultimately hurt by the lyrics. On the positive side his guitar playing is very good on most of his material.

When Tango In The Night is good, it is very good, as it is well polished and has a sonic quality. Buckingham would abruptly quit the band after the album’s release, and it would be a far different group that would enter the nineties. This album remains as a credible Fleetwood Mac release but not among their best pop work.

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Mirage by Fleetwood Mac

December 6, 2010

It had been almost three years since Fleetwood Mac released their last studio album and a year since its last tour ended. In the interim Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had begun to taste the solo waters.

The group traveled to Chateau d’Herouville, Herouville, France, to record their new album. Mirage was released during June of 1982. It would return the band to the top of the American charts for a five-week stay.

Mirage was a return to the slick California pop sound of Rumours rather than the overall experimental nature of Tusk. While it may not have reached the rarefied atmosphere of Rumours, it did have some very strong points. Songs such as “Gypsy” and “Love In Store” had a pop sheen to them and became hit singles. The harmonies were in place and the album had an overall wide appeal to it.

It is Stevie Nicks who really shines on the album. “Gypsy” is classic Nicks and has a beauty to it. The song is a sophisticated and well crafted pop classic. Also of note was the elaborate video that was produced for it.

“That’s Alright” was written back in 1974 during her Buckingham-Nicks days. It has close to a country feel, with background vocals by Buckingham that blend well with Nicks’ lead singing. “Straight Back” was written in 1981 by Nicks and was a song about a relationship ending.

Christine McVie’s contributions are only a step behind. “Love In Store” is the album’s first track and established its style, as it was a catchy pop tune. “Hold Me” was another catchy outing, as she combines vocally with Buckingham.

“Wish You Were Here” closes the album on a positive note. McVie’s only miss was “Only Over You,” which was one of the most average songs of her career.

Lindsey Buckingham struggles here and there, plus takes some chances which veer a little from the group’s modern day pop sound. “Book Of Love” and “Oh Diane” have an experimental nature to them which don’t make them bad but do make them different.

“Can’t Go Back” is Buckingham’s best track, as the sound just washes over you. On the other hand, “Eyes Of The World” is average and “Empire State” less so.

Mirage may not be Fleetwood Mac’s best album, but there are still a number of high points. While Tusk has grown on me over the years and Rumours has increased in brilliance, Mirage has remained the same. It is not an essential Fleetwood Mac release but it is pleasant, which probably defines its legacy.

Article first published as Music Review: Fleetwood Mac – Mirage on Blogcritics.

Live by Fleetwood Mac

December 1, 2010

Fleetwood Mac caught a lot of criticism for their 1979 album Tusk, mostly because they had not produced another Rumours. They took the easy way out by releasing their first live album on December 8, 1980. They also went conservative as ten of the eighteen tracks had originally appeared on their Fleetwood Mac and Rumours albums and only three from Tusk

Live was a two disc LP recorded at various locations between 1977-1980. As such the album does not have a complete concert feel but rather is a number of individual live tracks. The sound is not as slick which gives the group a less polished feel than their recent studio releases which was nice. They also rock a little more live than in the studio which was another positive component of the album.

There were three new performances that were recorded live but not during a formal concert. Two original compositions and one cover song were recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium before their crew and some friends. “Fireflies” by Stevie Nicks was a mid-tempo rocker that became a minor single hit. “One More Night” was a poignant Christine McVie ballad. The gem was a cover of the obscure Beach Boys song, “The Farmer’s Daughter.” It placed the emphasis squarely upon their harmonies which were some of the best of their career.

There were two surprise song choices. “Oh Well” was originally released by the pre-pop 1969 Fleetwood Mac and here Lindsey Buckingham gives one of his better guitar performances. He may not have been Peter Green but he was very good. They also reach back for “Don’t Let Me Down Again” which originally appeared on the Buckingham-Nicks album.

I find it interesting the three Tusk tracks are presented back to back. “Over & Over,” a seven minute “Sara,” and a nine minute “Not That Funny” are over twenty minutes of the band at its live best.

Most of there hits were included for commercial appeal. “Monday Morning,” “Say You Love Me,” and “Dreams” begin the album. “Over My Head,” “Rhiannon,” “Go Your Own Way,’ and “Don’t Stop” complete the list of many of their major hits up until that time.

Live was a successful release, both musically and commercially, at the time it was issued. It remains a good look at Fleetwood Mac in the midst of their most successful period.

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Tusk by Fleetwood Mac

November 27, 2010

What do you do when you have just released one of the ten best selling albums of all time, which topped the American album chart for 31 weeks? This was the question and task that faced Fleetwood Mac when they returned to the studio during late 1978 to record their follow up album to Rumours.

The resulting Tusk would be a long and sprawling double album. It would receive some criticism at the time of its release and not have the commercial success of its predecessor. It would, however, reach number four in The United States and number one in England and sell four million copies worldwide, which would have been outstanding for almost any other band or release.

Unfortunately, it was considered a failure in many circles. In retrospect, it could not have lived up to the expectations which preceded it.

I remember being disappointed at the time of its release, but the album has grown on me as time has passed and as it escaped the Rumours shadow. Today it stands on its own as another brilliant pop/rock release by Fleetwood Mac.

If Tusk was originally one thing, it was ambitious. In many places the sound veers from the safe pop styling of their last two releases to a more adventurous rock direction.

Lindsey Buckingham wrote nine of the twenty tracks and takes the most chances musically. “Tusk” was a drum=based track featuring the USC Marching Band. It was released as the lead single, which quickly announced that this was a different Fleetwood Mac release.

While the song was one of Mick Fleetwood’s crowning achievements, his drumming is excellent throughout. Just check out “Brown Eyes” and “What Makes You Think You’re The One.” Songs such as “The Ledge,” “Not That Funny,” and “What Make’s You Think You’re The One” have a frenetic feel that was not what its fan base was expecting at the time but which seem fine today. His “Save Me A Place” returned the group to a more familiar place complete with tight harmonies.

Stevie Nicks contributed five songs that may have been her overall strongest group and were what the band’s fan base expected of her. “Sara” is one of the finest performances of her career and became a deserved hit single. The original album version was almost two minutes longer than the single and remains superior. It was written about Mick Fleetwood’s wife Sara and her effects upon the group. Its harmonies, overdubbing, and emotional vocal make it one of her better creations.

“Storms” is moody and quiet, while “Sisters Of The Moon,” and “Beautiful Child” continued to develop her mystical personality.

Christine McVie sort of put it on cruise control for this release. “Never Make Me Cry” is a nice piano-based ballad. “Honey Hi” is surrounded with beautiful harmonies. “Over & Over” may have a mournful sound but it is also well created pop.

In many ways, Tusk is the modern pop Fleetwood Mac’s most creative album. It is a release that has stood the passage of time well and bears repeated listens to be truly appreciated.

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