Album Review

Fleetwood Mac Are Back—Sort Of

Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie - Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie

Wondering whether we’ll ever see another Fleetwood Mac album? Actually, one just came out—sort of. The record is billed as a Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie release, which makes sense in that those two provided all the vocals and wrote all the songs (some individually, some together). But their Fleetwood Mac bandmates, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, perform with them throughout (along with Mitchell Froom on keyboards); the CD was largely recorded at Village Studios in L.A., where Fleetwood Mac recorded several of their key albums; and Buckingham, who produced those albums, fills the same role here.

In fact, the original intention was reportedly for this to be a Fleetwood Mac album, but that plan changed when Stevie Nicks bowed out of the project. At times in the past, both Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham have left the lineup, and that didn’t stop the group from using the Fleetwood Mac name, so I’m not sure why Nicks’s absence did so here.

Be that as it may, this record sounds a lot like the band’s efforts (albeit without tracks that feature Nicks’s vocals), and it isn’t likely to disappoint many fans of such 1980s gems as Tango in the Night and Mirage. There are a few fillers, such as “Too Far Gone,” a beat-heavy excursion to nowhere particular with percussive breaks that vaguely recall “Tusk.” But most of these tracks, including “Lay Down for Free” and “Love Is Here to Stay,” deliver gorgeous harmonies, addictive hook-laden melodies, and great guitar work. Even when the lyrics are sad, such as on the pop-flavored “Red Sun,” the indelible melodies and exquisite vocals will leave you feeling upbeat. Buckingham remains one of rock’s most notable producers, McVie’s vocals can still transport you to heaven, and their collaboration—which evidences the strong chemistry between them—is mostly pure ear candy.

For whatever reason, Buckingham looks variously somber and annoyed in the photos that accompany this CD. But McVie looks satisfied, and, photos notwithstanding, Buckingham must be as well. This record certainly provides both of them with reasons to smile. Us, too.

BRIEFLY NOTED

Big Star, The Best of Big Star. The inventive and influential 1970s power-pop group Big Star are long gone—three of the four original members are dead—but they’re nevertheless having quite a year: Complete Third, a greatly expanded version of their most acclaimed album, came out around the beginning of 2017 and, more recently, we’ve seen Thank You, Friends, a tribute CD and concert DVD; and Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star, which featured cofounder Chris Bell. Now comes the 16-track Best of Big Star, which collects many of the high points from the group’s three studio albums, including the catchy “September Gurls” (a hit for the Bangles), the effusive “I’m in Love with a Girl,” and such other tunes as “Back of a Car,” “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Thirteen.” The carrot for folks who already own Big Star’s LPs is that this anthology presents six of the songs in their rarely heard single versions, mixes, or edits. That’s not much of an enticement, as the singles don’t differ significantly from the album renditions. Neophytes, though, will be glad they picked this up: it’s an excellent introduction to a group that deserved much more acclaim than it received during its brief existence.

Lisa Said, Estranged. This is the third album from Egyptian-American singer-songwriter Lisa Said (pronounced Sa’yeed), and my only serious complaint about it is that it’s too short—just a four-song, 18-minute EP. Like her last release, 2016’s full-length No Turn Left Behind, Said’s latest successfully walks a line between radio-ready pop and rough-edged rebel rock a la Chrissie Hynde, Deborah Harry, and Velvet Underground. (I picked up the latter influence well before I discovered a cover of “Candy Says” on Said’s website.) The fiddle- and guitar-heavy backup here is excellent, and so are the compositions and attitude-soaked vocals. Next time, I just hope we get more of them all.

Better Days, Willa and Company. This is Willa Vincitore’s first album, but after you hear its self-assured performances, you won’t be surprised to learn that she’s no newcomer: she has been building a fan base in New York’s Hudson Valley region for nearly two decades. The 12-track program consists entirely of self-penned songs, some of which sound strong enough to become standards. Her horn-spiced, eight-member band impresses, too, but the main attraction here is Willa’s arresting voice, which adapts effortlessly to fit up-tempo material and ballads that blur barriers between blues, rock, soul, and pop. On standouts like “Hooked on You” and the title cut, she recalls such artists as Aretha Franklin, Minnie Riperton, and Janis Joplin while staking out her own special space.

Various Artists, Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records. This tribute to the legendary independent music label was recorded live in its studios and features some performers with connections to Sun. Coproducer and featured singer Luther Dickinson, for example, is a son of the musician/producer Jim Dickinson, whose group the Jesters recorded the late-period Sun classic, “Cadillac Man”/“My Babe.” With the exception of Bobby Rush’s Sun-styled “Tough Titty,” the program consists entirely of songs from the label’s catalog. Some of them you’ll likely know, such as Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” delivered here by Alvin Youngblood Heart, and Charlie Rich’s “Lonely Weekends,” sung on Red Hot by Shawn Camp. But the performers dug deeper into the vaults for much of this program, which includes such relative obscurities as the Miller Sisters’ “Ten Cats Down,” delivered here by Amy LaVere, and Warren Smith’s “Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache,” performed by John Paul Keith. Throughout, the focus seems to be less on updating these songs than on conjuring up the original Sun magic—an effort that succeeds completely, thanks to spirited and wonderfully anachronistic performances. That said, if all you know of Sun are the early recordings of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, you should probably spend your money on some originals—try Bear Records’ superb Sun Rock Box—before moving on to covers.  

*****

Jeff Burger’s books include Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John LennonSpringsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters, and Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters. His next book is set for publication in early 2018. His website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary.