In Your Dreams by Stevie Nicks

June 17, 2011

Stevie Nicks, she of Fleetwood Mac, the mystical witch persona, and with a loyal fan base, released the seventh studio album of her 30-year solo career, May 3, 2011. It was her first studio album since Trouble In Shangri La and quickly proved that her popularity remained intact, as it reached number six on the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart.

In Your Dreamswas produced by veteran Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. Stewart co-wrote, with Nicks; seven of the album’s 13 tracks. Also on hand are Waddy Wachtel, Steve Ferrone, Mike Campbell, Mike Rowe, and Michael Bradford, plus the usual guest star appearances.

Nicks seems to have been very involved, as she wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks. The album lacks cohesiveness, however, as the music does not fall into any one style. Despite the music traveling in diverse directions, it is an excellent listen and proves there is still some life left in the “Gold Dust Woman.”

There are a lot of musical styles and forms to like here. “Secret Love” is an upbeat song that was issued as a successful single. She originally composed the song for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album but it failed to make the final cut. She followed this pop creation with the gentle folk of “For What It’s Worth.”

You can’t have a Stevie Nicks album without a doomed relationship and the title song fills that role well. On the other hand, “New Orleans” looks back at her leather, lace, and feathers days. “Soldier’s Angel” expresses her thoughts about war but it is Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar work that stands out.

The album’s most interesting track was “Annabel Lee.” She effectively uses Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry as a part of her lyrics. Poe died at the age of 40 during 1849 and now his name returns as the co-writer of a Stevie Nicks song 162 years later.

The album’s best track is “Italian Summer.” It is one of those seductive love ballads that Nicks is so good at creating. The strings give it a full sound and Nicks proves that her voice can still hit notes that are unreachable to others.

I have the feeling that Stevie Nicks basically recorded material that pleased her, which ultimately gives the album its charm. Her new album may not be of the overall quality of Bella Donna or The Wild Heart but that’s okay, as it is a mature work, which stands on its own and contains a lot of good music. Stevie Nicks is now 63 and In Your Dreams proves she is aging well.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Nicks – In Your Dreams 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.

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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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.