The Class of 1972: Fleetwood Mac — ‘Bare Trees’

Fleetwood Mac switched labels from Columbia to Warners/Reprise in 1969, and the original lineup — Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood plus Danny Kirwan (FMac 1.1) — recorded their last album together, Then Play On (1969). Green left the band he created, and FMac 2.0 issued Kiln House in 1970, featured the inclusion of Christine McVie. Spencer would leave the band next. FMac 2.1 added Bob Welch to the lineup, and their 1971 output was the classic Future Games.

Fleetwood Mac spent the latter portion of 1971 and early 1972 working on the next album, Bare Trees, which was issued in the U.S. in March. It would be the last album with Danny Kirwan, who would go on to a solo career: very good albums, little acclaim.

FMac 2.1 were: Danny Kirwan, guitar, vocals; Bob Welch, guitar, vocals; Christine McVie, keyboards, vocals; John McVie, bass guitar; Mick Fleetwood, drums, percussion. Kirwan would contribute five compositions, C. McVie two, and Welch two on Bare Trees.

Fleetwood Mac 2.1

The album was produced by Fleetwood Mac, engineered by Martin Birch, remixed by Bob Hughes, and remastered by Lee Herschberg. The cover photo was taken by John McVie. The album was recorded at DeLane Lea Music Centre in Wembley, London, and remixed at Record Plant Studios.

The band at this point excelled at soaring rock, vintage rock & roll, soulful ballads, and psychedelic goodness; this is a beautiful record. J. McVie and Fleetwood, as usual, keep the groove steady track after track. Kirwan, C. McVie, and Welch all sound superb in this setting. Once Kirwan left, the band (FMac 2.2) would produce three more outstanding albums (Penguin and Mystery to Me in 1973 and Heroes Are Hard to Find in 1974) before Welch would depart ahead of the influx of Buckingham Nicks (FMac 3.0). All of these are included in the RHINO Chronicles 1969-1974.

A confession before we dig in. In 55 years of loving the music of Fleetwood Mac, I have never properly appreciated the stunning work of John McVie on bass. All I can say is: I GET IT NOW. DAMN!

Fleetwood Mac 2.1

 

Bare Trees

SIDE ONE

“Child of Mine” [Kirwan] (5:09) jumps out immediately. You can blame Fleetwood here. His drumming is on the one, and the beat throughout is relentless. It features his percussion as well as his kit; in fact, this entire song is percussive in nature. C. McVie’s electric piano work certainly is. Jeremy Spencer was a big Buddy Holly fan (see Kiln House), but so was Kirwan. His timing is so perfect in this chorus:

Heavy country blues keep a rockin’
K-k-k-keep that soulbeat a-sockin’
Heavy country blues keep a rockin’
K-k-k-keep that soulbeat a-sockin’

And Kirwan’s vocals and guitar together during:

I miss you again
I let the sunlight through my eyes
I won’t cry

are brilliant.

“The Ghost” [Welch] (3:58) showcases relative newcomer Welch, opening with powerful bass lines and guitar. The featured instrument is Mellotron (or some variation) played by C. McVie, introduced at the beginning, and she gets a fine feature later. The chorus harmonies — Welch and Kirwan, likely — are beautiful.

Bare Trees U.K. gatefold

“Homeward Bound” [C. McVie] (3:20) is the first song Fleetwood Mac where C. McVie really kicks ass. Fleetwood begins on cowbell, then C. McVie on piano before searing guitar leads to her powerful vocals. The instrumental break layers piano and organ perfectly. There is a tremendous twin-guitar lead near the end, capped by an acoustic guitar coda.

 

“Sunny Side of Heaven” [Kirwan] (3:10) is the connective tissue between the remarkable Future Games and this album. It is a gorgeous, pastoral instrumental with wonderful Kirwan lead guitar, Fleetwood keeping control of the tempo.

Bare Trees 8-track — with the songs all out of order!

 

SIDE TWO

“Bare Trees” [Kirwan] (5:02) highlights Kirwan’s magnificent voice again. The song consists of two stanzas and a wordless vocalese chorus, all repeated a second time. J. McVie and guitar are amazing on this rocker.

 

Even if you’ve never heard this album before, chances are you know “Sentimental Lady” [Welch] (4:35). Welch had a big radio hit with the version that came from his 1977 solo album French Kiss. Sentimentally, I prefer the original. Welch is completely vulnerable. His vocals and acoustic guitar dominating, with piano accents and subtle rhythm in support. C. McVie’s harmony vocals are deluxe. Welch adds a Leslie effect to his guitar solo.

 

“Danny’s Chant” [Kirwan] (3:16) is more Kirwan vocalese. You could image lyrics here, but instead it is wordless. The tune opens with wild, blistering wah-wah guitar, and wah-wah maintains throughout. Fleetwood is again on the one, his polyrhythms explosive.

Bare Trees puzzle

“Spare Me a Little of Your Love” [C. McVie] (3:44) is a beautiful C. McVie ballad that was a regular feature of setlists. The backing vocals are lovely, as is her piano. The guitar solo features a nice effect, and toward the end the band turns this into a country rocker — think Eagles style.

 

Kirwan left his final mark with the band in “Dust” [Kirwan] (2:41). It is melancholy and magnificent. Acoustic and electric guitars are layered, and the harmonies a gorgeous. And the lyrics:

When the white flame in us is gone
And we that lost the world’s delight
Stiffen in darkness
Left alone
To crumble in our separate night
When your swift hair is quiet in death
And through the lips corruption
Thrust to still the labor of my breath

When we are dust, when we are dust
When we are dust, when we are dust

“Thoughts on a Grey Day” [Mrs. Scarrott] (1:46) is a fascinating coda to the album. “Special thanks to Mrs Scarrott for her readings, recorded at her home in Hampshire.”

Fleetwood Mac 2.1

 

2020 Remastered Bonus Tracks

“Trinity” (Mono Version) [Kirwan] (4:08) puts Fleetwood’s percussion front and center, with some powerful guitar and Kirwan’s vocals riding on the groove.

 

“Sentimental Lady” (Single Version) [Welch] (3:02) was pared down to fit the atrocities of AM radio, which was still very much dominant at the time.

 

 

“Homeward Bound” (Live) [C. McVie] (6:51) opens with a common rock theme before C. McVie sends the song in the proper direction. Bass and drums are perfection once again, and the guitar lead rips. She plays organ and electric piano, and the guitar solos are killer.

 

For an interesting comparison, check out this recording of Fleetwood Mac live at The Paramount in Seattle Washington, March 10, 1972. This was broadcast live on KISW radio. They open with a Kirwan’s tune from Kiln House, then Welch’s Future Games title track, followed by C. McVie’s song from her days with Chicken Shack. Then they unveil three tracks from the upcoming album, noting that it will be released in several weeks. They close with two Peter Green classics. This is some heady rock: great guitars, superb electric piano and organ, fabulous drums, and the most impressive John McVie bass work.

[FMac 03.10.72: Tell Me All The Things You Do, Future Games, Get Like You Used To Be, Little Child Of Mine, Spare Me A Little of Your Love, Homeward Bound, Black Magic Woman, Oh Well]

 

 

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