Bare Trees

Fleetwood Mac
Bare Trees
(Reprise 2278)

I don't think I've listened to this album in more than a decade, but I was just downstairs looking through my CD's and it just leapt right out at me. Bare Trees, man, this is an album I loved in high school, when I would buy pretty much anything Fleetwood Mac put out. That era pretty much came to a close with Behind the Mask, and slowly I sold off my F-Mac CD's until all that was left was Kiln House and this one.

I think if they did a comprehensive reissue series I'd probably buy 'em all again, but it should say something that the two albums I kept were not Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. The Buckingham-Nicks era of Fleetwood Mac certainly raised the ante and took the band to a whole new level. Those were great albums, as were Tusk and Mirage, but I've always rooted for the lineups prior to Lindsey & Stevie joining the band.

Everyone knows Rumours is a great achievement, but how much do you ever want to listen to it? I often joke about buying a used copy of the LP at a Salvation Army (guaranteed you'll find at least 3 copies in any given thrift store that sells used vinyl) and reviewing it like it's this unknown discovery, like "Oh my god, what a hidden treasure this is!"

Bare Trees is just the sort of hidden treasure Rumours isn't. Recorded in 1972, it features probably my favorite of Fleetwood Mac's 90-odd lineups. The supremely unheralded Bob Welch, along with Danny Kirwan, Christine Perfect (McVie), and of course, the perennial rhythm section of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. The great thing about this lineup is that they played like a band – unified in approach, fleshing out each other's songs with a single spirit.

The later supergroup lineup would produce much phenomenal music, but it was always a tug of war between three super-strong songwriters, and it didn't always sound like a band (especially Tusk on). Bare Trees has a band sound that sounds like an extension of Let it Be-era Beatles: clean, simple, a little loose, and unassuming. Not trying to change the world or make the best pop album of all time, just laying down the latest batch of good goddamn songs.

Danny Kirwan gets the most tracks, but Bob Welch gets the best ones including "The Ghost" and the original version of "Sentimental Lady." Welch would re-cut that one with some of the F-Mac superstars after Rumours hit, and it became his biggest solo hit; that's the one you sometimes hear on "lite-FM" radio stations. This one's far better, far less slick. Welch is in that Wings-era McCartney/Eric Carmen sort of school of songwriters, though not so power-poppy – he really deserves more attention. Too bad for him his solo years were the mid-to-late 70s, which weren't good for anyone but maybe Kiss and, um, Fleetwood Mac.

Kirwan, who was always a journeyman along the lines of Bob Weir, gets some fantastic moments in, like the ass-kickin' boogie of "Child of Mine," which opens the disc; "Bare Trees," a very Dead-sounding song, but with tons more energy; and the very pretty instrumental "Sunny Side of Heaven," which is just begging to be used in some hip little movie. Actually sounds somewhat current, like if I stumbled across it on some tiny college station I would not think twice; it sounds like a shoegazer band.

This is quite a "Side 1" album, with the second half being somewhat less stellar. "Danny's Chant" is a broody thing that would have been a good b-side. Christine gives us "Spare Me a Little of Your Love," a good song, but not what she'd be doing a few years on, and a pale thing compared to her "Homeward Bound" earlier in the album. Kirwan's "Dust" is simple and features much of his solid guitar work, and the album closes enigmatically with "Thoughts on a Grey Day," which is a poem read by an old woman named Mrs. Scarrot. No musical backing, just a poem. It's an odd move that really works, and ends the album with much charm.

Bare Trees is a mellow gem that's not very well-known, but it's an album I find I love about as much now as when I was 16, and that's not something I can say about a lot of albums. Hopefully I won't get into Best of the Doobies again, though I guess I won't fight it if it happens.

Review by Tula Greene