Coventry Blue by Jeremy Spencer

August 20, 2014


Jeremy Cedric Spencer has been a member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for over 15 years. He was an original member of Fleetwood Mac and remained with the band from its formation in 1967 until 1971, when he quit in the middle of a tour to join a religious cult. While he continued to perform, except for three albums released in the 1970’s, he did not return to the recording studio until 2006.

He has now released his third album in seven years. Coventry Blue follows on the heels of 2012’s excellent Bend In The Road. In many ways his new album is an extension of its predecessor. He has settled into a laid back bluesy groove that highlights his technical expertise and ability to explore a melody from a number of angles. His voice has aged but he does not over-extend himself and it fits his music well.

He is one of those guitarists who have always had a distinct sound. One you hear him play, whether acoustic or electric, you will instantly recognize his music in the future.

The first several tracks set the tone for what follows. “Happy Troubadour” is an instrumental on which he explores the main melody in a number of ways. “Got To Keep Movin’” is a smooth blues performance that re-introduces his under-stated vocal ability. “Dearest … Umm Yah” and “Send Me An Angel” find him settling into the smooth blues groove that dominates much of the material.

He reaches back into his past for two of the tracks. “The World In Her Heart” is an instrumental remake of a track from one of his early 1970’s solo releases. The poignant track is his take on “Open The Door,” which was penned and performed by him and Danny Kirwan back in their Fleetwood Mac Days. It evolves from a straight blues tune toward a rock/pop sound.

Coventry Blue finds Spencer not only producing a mature album of laid-back blues but one that seemingly finds him content.


Bend In The Road by Jeremy Spencer

September 5, 2012

When most people think of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Jeremy Spencer is not an artist who usually comes to mind. In fact, many modern music fans will not associate him with the band for which he was inducted, Fleetwood Mac. Today, the band is known for its smooth brand of pop rock and the tens of millions of albums it has sold during the past 30 years.

If you were a fan of the early Fleetwood Mac or an aficionado of the blues, then you are probably very familiar with Jeremy Spencer as one of the premier guitarists of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He and Peter Green were Mac’s original guitarists and they managed to produce some of the best guitar-based fusion of rock and blues of their era. Spencer was a member of the band, 1967-71, until he walked away in the middle of a tour to join a religious cult. He now returns with a brilliant new album.

Bend In the Road was originally released as a two-disc vinyl album on National Record Day, April 21, 2012. It now returns as a CD and there are differences. The LP contained 17 tracks, four of which were exclusive to the format. The CD repeats the other 13 tracks plus adds one more new song for a total of 14.

When Spencer is in the mood he is one of the better guitarists alive today and on this album, he is definitely in the mood. The material finds its foundation in the blues but there are excursions into country and rock.

The album’s lead track, “Homesick,” was originally recorded by James Williamson during 1952. It is a traditional blues song and is made for the virtuosity of Spencer’s slide guitar style. His voice may have aged a bit but the patina has made it perfect for interpreting the blues. “Cry for Me Baby” is an old Elmore James tune and on it he plays off second guitarist Brett Lucas. The clarity of each individual note is the result of talent and years of practice.

“Whispering Fields” goes in a different direction. It is a breezy instrumental that just flows along. “Walked a Mile” or “I Walked a Mile with Sorrow” is a sermon-type song that has an autobiographical feel to it, even though it was inspired by Robert Browning.

“Earthquake” finds him is rock mode. While the liner notes state it was inspired by Eddie Cochran, I find it has an Elvis feel to it. Whichever may be true, it is an ode to old style rock and roll. The title track ends the album and has poignant lyrics concerning the ebb and flow of life, which is perfect for a musician with many miles under his bent. Through it all it retains a positive attitude and hope.

Bend In the Road is now in the running for one of my top 10 albums of the year. It’s good to see this old Fleetwood Mac alumnus live and well, still producing superior music.

Article first published as Music Review: Jeremy Spencer – Bend In the Road on Blogcritics.

In The Meantime by Christine McVie

January 12, 2011

Christine McVie is living the quiet life of retirement far from the rock world of Fleetwood Mac. She was a member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame band for close to three decades. She interrupted her retirement in 2004 to release her first solo album in twenty years.

Her nephew, Dan Perfect, wrote or co-wrote nine of the twelve tracks, co-produced the album, provided the guitar work, and also contributed backing vocals. Also on hand were bassist George Haskins, drummer Steve Ferrone, percussionists Lenny Castro & Louis Conte, plus backing vocals by David Isaacs. Christine McVie provided all of the lead vocals, plays all types of keyboards, co-wrote ten tracks, and co-produced the affair.

In The Meantime was released September 7, 2004. It was disappointing commercially as it did not chart in The United States and only reached number 133 in the U.K. It deserved more success as it was a very consistent and creative pop/rock album that was both melodic and soothing. Her keyboards are up front on most of the tracks which enables the sound to be instantly recognizable to her fan base. Her voice also remains a strong instrument that has not been worn down by the passage of years.

Many of the lyrics move in a personal direction as she looks at life. This is particularly true with a number of the ballads that inhabit the release.

The albums first three songs establish the excellent pop nature of the release. “Friend,” “You Are,” and “Northern Star” are all smooth productions. Her voice soars on the first song and the third is a well performed ballad.

Some other highlights include “Anything is Possible,” which has a nice funky feel and “Givin’ It Back” which was co-written by former bandmate Billy Burnette. It is a guitar song which provides a good vehicle for another strong vocal. Songs such as “Bad Journey,” “Forgiveness,” and “Sweet Revenge” brings her life journey up to date.

In The Meantime may not have the well known songs of her past but the twelve tracks come together to create a cohesive listening experience.

It has been seven years since Christine McVie has released a solo album. It is unknown when she will come out of retirement again but hopefully it will be soon.

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

Trouble In Shangri-La by Stevie Nicks

January 6, 2011

Stevie Nicks, the rocking witch queen of music, made a nice comeback during 2001 with the release of Trouble In Shangri-La. She had returned to Fleetwood Mac and had just completed a successful tour with the band.

The singer’s career retrospective box set, Enchanted, had been well received and her 1994 mundane release, Street Angel, was now seven years in the past. Her fans welcomed her back as the album reached number five on the Billboard Magazine Pop chart and number one on the Internet Albums chart.

There were multiple (eight) producers listed on the album, which is always a warning sign. Plus, there is an almost endless list of studio and guest musicians.

It somehow all worked out for the best, as Trouble In Shangri-La is a consistently excellent album throughout. While it may not have the well known songs of her earliest solo releases, it more than makes up for it in quality as a whole.

There are songs that reach back to Stevie Nicks’ mystical aura, such as “Sorcerer,” which takes her fans back to the magical universe of her past. Plus, she hits some high notes that she had not visited in a number of years, proving her voice had recovered from its problems of the past. “Planets Of The Universe” is a song that builds and projects a funky/sexy feel along the way.

There are personal songs, like “That Made Me Stronger” and “Fall From Grace,” which are both autobiographical, as they bring her life journey up to date. The second of the two is a rocker equal to the best of any in her catalogue.

There are duets as well. “Too Far From Texas” is a country rocker that features Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks, while “Bombay Sapphires” has some nice background vocals by Macy Gray.

There are tracks that cannot be put into any category. The title song is a solid rocker with a haunting chorus, while “Candlebright” is a nice, gentle acoustic piece.

“It’s Only Love” is a Sheryl Crow composition, who also produces and participates in the song, which is a simple and powerful track. “Love Is” is the album closer and features Sarah McLachlan on piano and backing vocals.

Trouble In Shangri-La brought Stevie Nicks into the 21st century and rejuvenated her career. It remains an excellent stop in her solo catalogue and is always worth a listen.

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Street Angel by Stevie Nicks

January 4, 2011

If you are a fan of Stevie Nicks, you can probably find something worthwhile about Street Angel. If you are not familiar with her work, this is not the album to provide an introduction.

Street Angel is one of those albums that’s okay but pales when compared to the rest of her catalogue. It was recorded during a difficult time in her life and career. She was not a part of Fleetwood Mac at the time and her dependence upon prescription drugs had worsened. She would enter rehab at the end of the recording process. It was against this background that she put together this May 23, 1994 release. The album would produce no big single hits and only reach number 45 on The United States album charts.

The album is not as mystical or magical as are most of her solo releases and especially some of her material with Fleetwood Mac. She remains grounded which makes the approach different from the rest of her work, which in this case was not necessarily a good thing. Another issue is the production was not as slick as one would expect from a Stevie Nicks album. Finally her voice is a little lower or huskier than on most of her material of the time period.

What it all adds up too is the weakest solo album in her catalogue. All is not lost, however, as there are some good performances scattered throughout the album. “Rose Garden” is a simple but haunting country type song that is free from the clutter of much of what surrounds it. “Maybe Love Will Change Your Mind” is a nice gentle rock song. “Love Is Like A River” is a representative Nicks rocker. “Unconditional Love” may be the best track as it is an emotional ballad. The title track has some problems but the harmonies with David Crosby are first rate.

On the other hand, her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” never takes off and the Trevor Horn/Betsy Cook composition, “Docklands,” is pointless. Songs such as “Listen To The Rain,” “Greta,” and “Destiny” all fall into the average range at best.

Street Angel is an album for Stevie Nicks or Fleetwood Mac collectors who want everything. There are some nice stand alone performances, but if you want to listen too Stevie Nicks, your time can be better spent elsewhere. It all ended well, hoever, as there were better times and music ahead for Stevie Nicks.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Nicks – Street Angel on Blogcritics.

Rock A Little by Stevie Nicks

January 4, 2011

Stevie Nicks released her third solo album on November 18, 1985. Rock A Little was recorded during a difficult time in her life. Her addictions were in full flower and her relationship with producer Jimmy Iovine had ended. Iovine would leave in the middle of the recording sessions.

After a tour to support the album, she checked into the Betty Ford Center. It all added up to a somewhat inconsistent release, though it did hit platinum status within months of its release.

Nicks created a musical journey through her life at the time. The overall quality of the material may not have been her best but the intent was solid. It was also an album of the eighties, which was heavy on the synthesizers and bass, which dates it a little. Sometimes I wish she would re-record this album in a stripped down version.

While there are not a number of signature songs, some of the material does have an upside. “Talk To Me” was the biggest hit, reaching number four on the pop charts and number one on the rock charts. It was also a memorable MTV video. The album’s best track was “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You.” It is an emotional ballad with piano and orchestra sections.

If you are willing to search, there are several other representative tracks. “I Can’t Wait” is a hard driving guitar-based song that is also danceable if you are so inclined. It was perfect radio fare for the time period and was a top 20 single hit. “Sister Honey” is another catchy dance track that is just a little too heavy on the drums. “I Sing For The Things” may not be the strongest music but the lyrics are poetic and memorable. “Imperial Hotel” is another strong rocker.

On the other hand, the rest of the tracks are average at best and seem to stem from her problems in life at the time. She managed to put together an album under trying circumstances, and while some of the material may not have met her previous standards, she did accomplish the task with grim determination.

In retrospect, Rock A Little is certainly listenable but does not compare with her best work. The technology of today allows a person to pull off the better tracks, with the leftovers better consigned to the mists of time.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Nicks – Rock A Little on Blogcritics.

The Other Side Of The Mirror by Stevie Nicks

December 31, 2010

The 1980s were coming to an end when Stevie Nicks released her fourth solo studio album May 11, 1989. It would reach number ten on the Billboard Magazine album charts and achieve platinum status for sales in The United States.

The Other Side Of The Mirror invites her listeners down the rabbit hole with her again to explore her magic world. While it is a place that had been visited a number of times, it is still interesting when she is at her creative best. There are highs and lows but when she is good, she is very good. On the real positive side, her voice is in much better condition than on her previous solo release.

“Rooms On Fire” was the lead song and big hit. It reached number 16 on The American Pop Singles Chart and rose to the number one position on the Mainstream Rock Chart. It was a pop/rock track similar to the Fleetwood Mac sound of the day. It is immediately familiar in a good way.

“Alice” sets the tone and theme of the album. It is a personal journey that is both dream and reality. Sometimes her lyrics can be obscure and difficult to understand, but here she treads the line between reality and myth well. The Kenny G solo is an added bonus.

There are a number of strong or at least interesting tracks. “Doing The Best I Can” is solid musically, but the lyrics deal with her substance abuse which gives the song a dramatic quality. “Whole Lotta Trouble” was one of three tracks she co-wrote with Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers fame, and is solid rock ‘n’ roll. “Ooh My Love” is one of those Stevie Nicks songs that is haunting and casts a spell. “Two Kinds Of Love” contains a nice duet with Bruce Hornsby plus some nice late 80’s era keyboards.

The album does contain what can be considered filler. “Cry Wolf” is a song written by Jude Johnstone and does not really fit her style. “I Still Miss Someone” is a Johnny Cash composition, and while it was not terrible, the space could have been put to better use.

The Other Side Of The Mirror does not have the consistent highs of her first two solo releases, but is still worth a visit now and then. The lyrics are a bit eccentric in places but all in all it is a presentable album.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Nicks – The Other Side Of The Mirror on Blogcritics.

Go Insane by Lindsey Buckingham

December 27, 2010

Lindsey Buckingham returned with his second solo album nearly three years after his first. His Fleetwood Mac partner, Stevie Nicks, had established herself as one of the leading solo female rockers in the world with the release of her two solo albums. Her combination of slick production and mainstream/rock songs were the perfect commercial mix. While his solo efforts would never have the vast appeal of hers, they would be interesting and explore musical forms outside of the Fleetwood Mac pop style.

He played virtually all the instruments. His only accompaniment was keyboards by Gordon Fordyce on track one and bass by Bryant Simpson on the second track. Every other sound was produced by Buckingham. While he plays the drums, bass, and percussion instruments, it is his guitar virtuosity that steals the show. He has always been one of the underrated guitarists in rock music and he particularly shines on his solo work.

Go Insane is slick, edgy, and surreal in places. He has always been the experimental edge of The Fleetwood Mac sound and, outside their confines, he lets his creative juices flow freely. While the album was commercially successful, climbing to number 45 on The United States album charts, the nature of the music prevents it from having the massive appeal of Nicks and to a lesser extent Christine McVie.

There is a fair amount of good music here. “Go Insane” was a successful single as it reached number 23 on The American charts. It was the album’s most accessible track as it was an anthem type song that treaded the line well between rock and pop. “I Want You” was the first song on the original vinyl release. The alarm clock sound gives notice there will be some experimental sounds to follow. The track goes on to have a funky feel. “Slow Dancing” is a haunting tune but the overdubbed vocals create some nice harmonies. “I Must Go” is a nice pop song taken in a dark direction by its lyrics.

The best song was the album closer, “D. W. Suite,” which was a tribute to Dennis Wilson who had died in a boating accident. It is divided into three parts. Life, death, and redemption run the gamut from melodic to emotional. It was an ambitious creation that came together and worked.

The line between genius and bizarre can be a fine one at times. Lindsey Buckingham stayed on the positive side of the line as his experiments may be a little off center, but they are interesting and reflect his style and inclinations well.

Go Insane is not a replica of the Fleetwood Mac sound. It is a unique listen and an invite to share his musical journey.

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The Wild Heart by Stevie Nicks

December 27, 2010

Stevie Nicks released her second solo album close to two years after her first. The Wild Heart may not have had the consistent highs of Bella Donna, but when it was good, it was very good.

She was riding a wave of personal popularity during 1983. Her 1981 Bella Donna solo debut and Fleetwood Mac’s 1982 Mirage album both reached number one on the American album charts and sold millions of copies. The group’s concerts and her solo appearances continued to sell out before huge audiences. It was against this background that she went into the studio to record her second solo album.

The album has a list of guest musicians that seem to go on ad infinitum. Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Mick Fleetwood, Steve Lukather, Wendy Wachtel, Don Felder, Roy Bittan, David Foster, and dozens of others make appearances. Even his purple highness, Prince, makes an uncredited stop.

She continues in the rock vein of Bella Donna. The sound is updated to what was popular at the time, as synthesizers and percussion move to the forefront to share space with the guitars. The main problem was that the lyrics tended to be fairly obscure on a number of the songs.

As with her previous album, it was the top forty hit singles that formed the foundation of her music and are the most accessible tracks. “Stand Back” is one of the better creations of her career. It is a rocker with catchy hooks and the vocal is powerful as well.

“Nightbird” was a dark tribute ballad for her old friend Robyn Anderson, who had passed away. “If Anyone Falls” may be a little dated today as the synthesizers are front and center. On the other hand, it was part of the best of the eighties sound as it was very danceable and the harmonies were perfect.

There are a number of other tracks that are still worth exploring, including the title song, which is another in your face rocker. “Enchanted” can best be described as country/rock, as her vocal combines with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street band member Roy Bittan’s piano with good effect. Another highlight is “Nothing Ever Changes,” which is an angry and powerful rocker.

The unusual track is “Beauty and The Beast,” which comes complete with a 23-person string section. She also recorded the song live. While I prefer her rock material, this was a good attempt at trying something different.

The Wild Heart was an upbeat outing for Stevie Nicks. While it may not have been as good as her solo debut, it was still an excellent release. It proved that she was a formidable solo artist in her own right.

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Law and Order by Lindsey Buckingham

December 25, 2010

Lindsey Buckingham released his first solo album October 3, 1981. While it would be a commercial success reaching number 32 on The United States album charts and spawning one top ten single, he would never achieve anywhere near the success of Fleetwood Mac or of his bandmate Stevie Nicks.

Part of Buckingham’s problem is he will always be associated with the pure and sophisticated pop sound of Fleetwood Mac. Ironically he was the experimental outer edge of the group’s sound. While he did produce some pop gems, it was his edginess and guitar excursions that formed the counterpoint to the music of Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks, which gave the group part of their massive appeal.

Law and Order was typical of Buckingham’s approach but outside the Fleetwood Mac confines the music had to stand on its own.

He played just about every instrument on the album’s eleven tracks. George Hawkings and Mick Fleetwood play bass and drums respectively on “Trouble,” and Carol Ann Harris and Christine McVie each provide background harmonies on one track, but that’s it. Buckingham takes care of everything else. He plays his usual suburb guitar but also adds bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, and the vocals. He even co-produced the affair. Sometimes I think he would have been better served not to take on so much and get some outside impute.

While only three of the tracks were cover songs, they were an eclectic group. “It Was I” was a hit for Skip & Flip in 1959, “Satisfied Mind” was a country hit for Porter Wagoner, and “September Song” was a traditional pop song. He took the songs in different directions and while interesting, I would have preferred more of his own compositions.

“Trouble” was a top ten single in The United States and the combination of his acoustic guitar playing and Mick Fleetwood’s drumming made it the album’s most accessible track.

There were a number of other attractive creations. “Mary Lee Jones” is an energetic rocker. “Bwana” was a unique take on Mick Fleetwood’s trip to Africa. “Shadow Of The West,” “Johnny Stew,” and “Love From Here, Love From There” are Buckingham at his hit and miss best.

Law and Order is a representative Lindsey Buckingham album with all its plusses and misses. The best thing about any of his albums was he would always take a chance or two and never let the Fleetwood Mac sound prevent him from exploring new directions.

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