Fleetwood Mac: Bare Trees (1972)

I tend to come across two types of Fleetwood Mac fans. There are the fans of their astoundingly successful records in the mid- and late-70s, when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band, turning intra-band soap opera theatrics into some of the best-selling albums and best-known singles of all time.  And there are fans of the original Fleetwood Mac, helmed by bluesman Peter Green, with Green classics like "Oh Well" and "Rattlesnake Shake" and of course the original "Black Magic Woman" rallying British blues purists.

Rare, though, are fans of the era between those two, when the band was led mainly by American singer-guitarist Bob Welch.  And, sure, those albums didn't draw the critical praise of Green's work or the mass commercial attention of the Buckingham-Nicks years. And, yeah, this run of music is characterized by a comforting blandness, songs that largely fail to distinguish themselves, and a somewhat mushy, listless sound to the records (particularly compared to the painstaking production of the Buckingham-Nicks years).  But there is something I find pleasantly enjoyable about a lot of the music from their forgotten years, low-key and understated and just plain old nice.

While most of Welch's best songs can be found on other albums, like the lysergic semi-prog of Future Games' title track and the mellow, jazzy groove of Mystery to Me's wonderful "Hypnotized," Bare Trees is one I keep returning to. It's the last album to feature guitarist Danny Kirwan, with Kirwan, Welch, and Christine McVie contributing to the mix (much like the divergent trio of Buckingham/Nicks/McVie later on). 

Indeed, relative to other albums from this era, Welch plays a largely secondary role, helming only 2 tunes. One of those is the perfect little pop tune "Sentimental Lady" (which Welch would re-record as a solo track after leaving the band, with some commercial success) -- while the other, "The Ghost," is more characteristic of Welch's work with the band, mid-tempo and understated, but catchy and inviting.  McVie, the source of continuity across band eras, has a couple tunes as well, and while I generally find her contributions rather faceless, "Spare Me A Little Of Your Life" is as strong as any of her better-known tunes from the band's commercial juggernaut years; and "Homeward Bound" is atypically perky.

But it's really Kirwan's album. And while some of his old-school classic rock, like the opener "Child of Mine," is sadly pedestrian, "Sunny Side of Heaven" is a strikingly gorgeous instrumental (with a lovely riff later repurposed by modern-day psychedelic pioneers The Amazing for their haunting ode to the guitarist, "The Kirwan Song"); while the title track is an engaging little romp. Meanwhile, "Danny's Chant," after a blast of opening guitar noise, offers a bit of lively, psychedelic stomping around.

I wouldn't go so far as to call it a very good record; as noted, this entire era is haunted by a bit of blandness (and I've found it's best enjoyed by culling the best mid-period Mac into a single-disc compilation, something which the band foolishly never bothered to do); but it certainly deserves more than the obscurity where most of the work between Green & Buckingham/Nicks tends to wallow.

Here's a performance of "Sentimental Lady" (from a Welch solo concert, joined by McVie, as well as Fleetwood on drums):
Here's "Spare Me A Little" (performed by the Buckingham-Nicks iteration of the band):
And an audio rip of "Sunny Side":