Talk From The Rock Room: Fleetwood Mac - Bare Trees - 'When We Are Dust'

Monday, November 2, 2020

Fleetwood Mac - Bare Trees - 'When We Are Dust'

Spinning today in the ‘rock room’ is a transitional yet beautifully creative LP obscured by the mists of rock history. The album’s enigmatic vibe is because the record acts a bridge between era’s as well as band members. Fleetwood Mac’s 1972 record Bare Trees was recorded post Peter Green, pre Buckingham/Nicks and right when Danny Kirwan was aiming to leave the group. The lineup at this point in the band’s existence was founding members Mick Fleetwood, John McVie as the rhythm section, Christine McVie on piano and vocals as well as Danny Kirwan and newcomer Bob Welch on guitar and vocals.

The album is a heterogeneous mix of compositions and influence. Only little tattered remains exist sonically of the Peter Green Fleetwood Mac blues band, and on the record there is now a sanded sweetness to the sound that foreshadows the FM radio Fleetwood Mac only 3 short years away. A wonderful record reflected in the pastoral landscape of the cover of towering trees caught between seasons, suspended on a misty grey area. The recording finds Danny Kirwan reaching a creative peak, Christine McVie a full time member of the band and Bob Welch lending the group a slick professionalism. While this line up of the 'Mac' gets filed between the two towering lineup's their albums and importance cannot be understated. The final track on the album is a poem titled, 'Thoughts On a Grey Day' is a poem read by a close neighbor of the band when recording the record. The content of the poem informed and inspired much of Danny Kirwan's writing on the LP.

The record begins with the churning ‘Child of Mine’, McVie’s blue Rhodes piano rolling under the undulating rhythm anchored by McVie’s loopy bass. The song has wind-blown melody but does retain an edge with some prickly lead lines from Kirwan. The music elicits movement, the search for child misplaced from a life from time. The song is biographical as Kirwan never knew his biological father. By the second verse, the addition of circular tom tom strikes lend even more urgency to the track. There is a dizzying breakdown mid song with a cavernous guitar tone by Kirwan and a spongy bed underneath. A ‘Badfinger’ rocker comes to mind when I play this cut, don’t know why. But it always happens.  Great rocker, big guitars, ace opener.

Bob Welch’s ‘The Ghost’ opens with an acoustic and bass guitar playing a prelude melody in unison. Welch was from California, and it shows in the song’s gusty construction and the spectral chorus motif that just feels warm and right. A woody flute (created by McVie on Mellotron) winds around the songs body.  

Christine McVie illustrates a strong vocal showing with the following ‘Homeward Bound’ The song begins as a real thumper with a robust cowbell driven groove. These are McVie’s debut lead vocals as an official member of the ‘Mac’ with a urgent rocker. Pop rock perfection.

The sparkling and dramatic Kirwan penned ‘Sunny Side of Heaven’ rises above the horizon, levitated by a centrally located descending lick. Closing the first side of the LP, the song cruises just inches above the tree tops, warmth on its wings. The melody sails almost weightlessly, the guitar singing over lacy undercurrents. Again, Kirwan and Welch deftly weave guitar lines without ever getting too busy. This is genius stuff. This is one of those certain songs that is a universe unto itself, it existence unique, its magic tangible, and perfectly concluding side one.

The title track ‘Bare Trees’ opens side two and is one of the closest things to the previous Fleetwood Mac of old. The groove is propellant and bounds over snow drifts and glossy streams hoping to get home to a warm fire. Glistening guitars agitate the groove with anxious chugging and bountiful picking. Syncopated breaks cross cut the central theme with McVie and Kirwan playing a dual lick. These tasteful breaks are drizzled all over the record. A ‘rock room’ favorite, this track has all of the essential elements of a killer rock cut and is a fitting side two opener.

‘Sentimental Lady’ follows, another fantastic cut by Bob Welch. Here we can hear it in its formative state, a warm love song that would later reach number 8 on the charts when rerecorded for Welch’s 1977 solo album French Kiss. Oddly enough for that later version, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham would contribute with McVie producing. The song ‘feels’ like a hit as it hits your aural receptors, on the Bare Trees LP its tucked on side 2, just another fantastic song on a stuffed record. The chorus segment spotlights a helix of intertwined vocalists and shimmering guitars.

‘Danny Chant’ opens with a violent slashing wah-wah’d guitar prelude. Layers of stratified guitars give the song a firm foundation. A slide guitar moves in from somewhere, and the song reveals a tribal stomp. Dust rises around as a wordless melody line fittingly and rhythmically chanted. An weighty and disorienting Kirwin number that somehow strattles both sides of the 'Fleetwood Mac' musical fence and acts as a divide between the the Welch and McVie songs on either side.

'Spare Me a Little of Your Love' follows in dynamic contrast and gives Christine McVie her second spotlight of the record and is the perfect little pop song. The cut would endure as it was played in concert throughout the 1970's. The song is the blended hue on a pallet connecting era's of Fleetwood Mac. McVie's recognizable hearty voice pleads its case against a timeless melody and groovy backdrop. Beautiful. 

What many folks, myself included assert to be Danny Kirwan’s finest composition, ‘Dust’ is the penultimate track on the record. A gentle original wisp of British Folk, Kirwan’s fragile vocals and the haunting melody teeter on the edge of shattering into a thousand pieces. The song is a deeply introspective meditation on the inevitability of death and loss. Harmonies, breathy cotton mesh with a gently wobbling electric guitar. The song seems to pass through your fingers as its gifts soak into your ears.

A track of mixed emotions for Mac fans, but vital in the inspiration of Bare Trees, the final movement of the LP is 'Thoughts On a Grey Day'. A poem written and dictated by an elderly neighbor of where the band was living; Mrs. Scarrott dictates the text to Mick Fleetwood's recorder in a shaky but sure voice. The poem sums up the precipitation loss drizzled throughout the record, but also leaves the listener looking for some sort hopefulness that it always close at hand. It is the 'rock room's assertion that the poem is the vital motif which the record is distilled through.

'Fleetwood Mac's Bare Trees is an important detour in the substantial discography of 'Fleetwood Mac'. Filed in between two substantially discussed and recognized era's, the LP blend into the landscape like the leafless trees on its cover. The 'rock room' recommends pulling the album from the organized slumber of your record shelves or adding it to your collection for a completely reasonable deduction. Danny Kirwan, Christine McVie  and Bob Welch's songs deserve it.

Bare Trees LP

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