The Good: Wonderful overall sound, Good lyrics, Creative and diverse
The Bad: VERY short, "Thoughts On A Grey Day."
The Basics: A good, but terribly short, Fleetwood Mac album, Bare Trees has some nice tracks (and one dud) for those who like light rock.
Some who read my many reviews of my August/September Artist Of The Month, Fleetwood Mac, might believe that I am not enjoying my exploration of Fleetwood Mac's music. This is not at all true, especially as I depart their earlier works in favor of the more recognizable quintet that was charting as I grew up. Between getting through earlier, rougher, albums that have more of a bluegrass/country sound than the pop-rock of Fleetwood Mac I enjoy, and having rigorous standards, it might be interpreted that I am not enjoying Fleetwood Mac. But I am.
Herein lays the quandary with albums like Bare Trees. After a few early albums by the group that I have not enjoyed, I listened to Bare Trees and instantly took to it. I knew right away that I would be recommending it and I was excited to put it on high replay. But the more I listened to it, the more sparse it sounded - as a result of its very short running time - and the more the final track began to grate on me. The result is an album that on c.d. is closer to average than extraordinary.
With only ten songs, clocking out at a measly 37:10, Bare Trees ought to have been combined with another album from this era in Fleetwood Mac's history both to use the c.d. medium better and to salvage one of the less wonderful adjacent albums. This ten-track disc is largely the musical vision of Fleetwood Mac, which was comprised of Kirwan, Fleetwood, Welch and the McVies at this time. Nine of the ten songs were written by band members and it is hard to argue that the final track, "Thoughts On A Grey Day" is even a Fleetwood Mac song as it is written and performed by "Mrs. Scarrott" without any real musical accompaniment. Still, it made it onto the album.
The other nine tracks are written by Welch (two), Christine McVie (two) and the remainder by Kirwan. The album was produced by Fleetwood Mac and the three writers perform the vocals on their nine songs. Each of the members of the band play their own instruments and this is a rather guitar-driven album and Mick Fleetwood's drumming is consistent, but fairly mellow throughout. In other words, Fleetwood Mac is largely in control of this album and it turns out as a success for them as a result.
Instrumentally, Bare Trees is a mellow rock and roll album which is largely guitar and keyboard based. The album includes an entirely instrumental track, "Sunny Side Of Heaven," which makes up for the repetitive quality that McVie's lyrics on "Homeward Bound" has before it. Songs like "Bare Trees" and "Spare Me A Little Of Your Love" are upbeat in their sound with the guitars and percussion strumming and beating out tunes that are easy to groove to. The more mellow "Sentimental Lady" is one of the best mellow, slow, romantic songs that early Fleetwood Mac created and it makes for a delightful different song that still fits the rest of the album. The presence of the keyboards makes it more memorable than the final track on the album and the mellow nature of it still carries a light rock feeling, which fits the rest of the album.
The real strength of "Sentimental Lady" (outside the lyrics) are the vocals. The vocals on "Sentimental Lady" have the singers of Fleetwood Mac actually harmonizing, so the song has an almost a cappella sound to it (though the keyboards and very light drums prevent it from being a true a cappella). The rest of the songs have the writers of their songs singing them. But even here the album has a rather unified quality to it as Christine McVie, Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch all have very clear, articulate vocalizations. Moreover, they all share a similar range. Kirwan and Welch have excellent tenor voices and McVie tends to sing in that lower (for a woman) range. The result is that Fleetwood Mac has a generally androgynous quality to the vocals that makes the vocals more consistent on this album than the instrumentals.
And the band has a lot to sing about, though largely the album is dominated by songs about relationships. The differences in the poetry from the group's three writers, though, can be fairly extreme. Christine McVie, who was still a fairly young singer-songwriter, seemed to have rather limited ideas and filled out her songs with a lot of repetition. So, for example, on "Spare Me A Little Of Your Love," she wrote and sang the tiresome refrain "So spare me a little (just a little bit) / Spare me a little (just a little bit) / Spare me a little of your love (of your love) / Spare me a little (just a little bit) / Spare me a little (just a little bit) / Spare me a little of your love (of your love)" which is repeated three times in the song, which is less than four minutes long. Outside that rather simple refrain, there is little substance to actually make up a song!
But that does not mean that the album is a wash lyrically. The song "Bare Trees," written by Danny Kirwan, has a wonderful sense of imagery. Singing of loss and harsh breakups, he contrasts nature with the interpersonal with lines like "Bare trees, grey light / Oh yeah it was a cold night / Bare trees, grey light / I was alone in the cold of a winters day / You were alone and so snug in your bed" ("Bare Trees"). Kirwan has a good eye for imagery and a nice sense of diction to put it to a song, but the song - like McVie's - is hardly complicated.
Perhaps that is why I like "Sentimental Lady" as much as I do. As much as the song seems to repeat with a cannon, it actually has more stanzas outside the extensive refrain. This musical storysong is a nice song about desire with Welch's ideas clearly expressed: "Now you are here today / But easily you might just go away / 'Cause we live in a time / When paintings have no color, words don't rhyme / And that's why I've traveled far / Cause I come so together where you are / And all of the things that I said that I wanted / Come rushing by in my head when I'm with you" ("Sentimental Lady"). The singsong nature of the lyrics is nullified by the extensive stanzas without the simple rhymes and the overall sentiment of the song works wonderfully.
All in all, Bare Trees is a good, but nowhere near perfect, light rock album that is mellow and harmonious, but not overbearing. And perhaps the biggest complaint I can have with it is that there is not enough of it. Those who want real value out of their c.d.s are likely to find the same problem with it.
The best track is "Sentimental Lady," the low point is "Thoughts On A Grey Day."
For other Fleetwood Mac albums, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac
For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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