Sunday, October 26, 2014

Kat's Korner: Stevie Nicks' 24 Karat Classic

Kat:  The voice of countless solo hits and countless Fleetwood Mac classics writes songs, Stevie Nicks writes thousands and thousands of songs.  In fact, the solo career resulted from all these songs, far too many to wait for the occasional Mac album.

It was my fault, my move, my game
If I'd have known a little more
I'd have run away
It was dark out and I held the cards
I was the dealer
And it wasn't hard
I was the mistress of my fate
I was a cardshark
If I'd have looked a little ahead
I'd a run away
I was the mistress of my fate
I gave it all out
If I'd really known you then
You'd a had had to watch out

"The Dealer" is a song of such control and confidence, you have to wonder how it ended up on hold.  But that's the reality of so many of Stevie's songs over the years.  Her outtakes ("Reconsider Me" which was hidden away until the boxed set Enchanted), her B-sides ("One More Big Time Rock and Roll Star") and her unreleased ("What Has Rock and Roll Ever Done For You") rival some of her all time greats -- solo hits like "Stand Back," "Edge of Seventeen" and "Rooms On Fire" or Mac ones like "Dreams," "Sara" and "Gypsy."

And "The Dealer" is one of fourteen tracks on Stevie's latest solo album, 24-Karat Gold: Songs From The Vault.

In the liner notes, she explains:

Most of these songs were written between 1969 and 1987.  One was written in 1994 and one in 1995.  I included them because they seem to belong to the special group.  Each song has a soul.  Each song has a purpose.  Each song is a love story. . . . They represent my life behind the scenes -- the secrets, the broken hearts, the broken-hearted -- and the survivors.  This music is not new.  It is like going through my mother's things and finding the things she did not share with me because she left so suddenly.  These songs are the memories, the 24 karat gold rings in the blue box.

As the set celebrates the songwriting, it does more than that.

Stevie Nicks has the most distinct voice in the world of rock.

Even today, there's no one else like her.

She started with a silky soprano which he shredded on the road with the Mac performing high intensity versions, extended flights of "Rhiannon" and other early songs.  What she was left with was a contralto with more thickness and body.

It wasn't the voice of the young ingenue and, in its power and glory, it pretty much demanded that songs like "Leather and Lace" (her hit with Don Henley) would be wispy memories as she took on harder realities of life.

Sometimes late at night
I turn on the radio
Your music fills the room
I just can't seem to get away from you
Saw a life-size paper doll of you
In a record store
My friends as well as me
Can't seem to let you go
It was finished long ago
Sometimes he's my best friend
Even when he's not around
But the sound of his voice
Well it follows me down
And reminds me 

"Hard Advice."  The young damsel who first starred in "Landslide" couldn't pull it off. 

Stevie can, the Stevie who found strength in what non-stop touring left her with.

And, yes, "Landslide" is a movie.

Few song writers produce epics the way Stevie does.

She's not writing story songs, she's writing films.

One listen to  "Beauty and the Beast" (on 1983's solo album Wild Heart) should have made that clear to those who didn't catch that reality early on with her compositions like "Landslide," "Gold Dust Woman" and "Crystal."

And many times, these films come with sequels.  Which is how her monster Mac hit "Dreams" continued in 1981's "Outside The Rain," for example, or 1983's "Enchanted" continues in 1995's "Destiny."  Stevie's created her own lexicon and annotations.

On the title track of the new song, she sings:

There were dreams to be sold
(Chain of chains)
My 24 karat gold
(Chain of chains)
There was a love to be sold
(Chain of chains)
You said you might be coming back to town
(Chain of chains)

The backing vocals are indicated by parenthesis.

The backing vocals.

How can you not note the backing vocals?

Yes, Lady Antebellum joins her for the magnificent "Blue Water" (and Mick Fleetwood should be kicking himself for the Mac having passed up on this instant classic).

But, with the possible exception of the late Freddie Mercury, no rock star has ever appreciated vocals the way Stevie has.

The woman who first harmonized with Lindsey Buckingham at a high school social, and did so on the John and Michelle Phillips classic "California Dreamin'" (the Mamas and the Papas), never succomed to a lead singer's desire to kill the backing vocals.

Even in the 80s, when one artist after another multi-tracked themselves into Xeroxed vocal hell (see especially the solo work of Buckingham), Nicks embraced harmonies.

And can it, at this late date, be a Stevie Nicks album without her sisters in song Lori Nicks and Sharon Celani?

The interplay, the call and response and the unison of the three voices remain the story of harmony in the last decades of modern rock.

A different form of interplay takes part on Vanessa Carlton's "Carousel" which finds Stevie sharing vocals with Vanessa and with her niece Jessi Nicks which is fitting since it's the only song on the album that Stevie didn't write or co-write.   With Mike Campbell and Waddy Wachtell, she wrote "I Don't Care" and "She Loves Him Still" was written with Mark Knopfler.  (The other eleven are solo Stevie compositions.)

And the album is seamless.

It has the kind of simplicity and naturalness of, for example, The Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Sessions or Joni Mitchell's For The Roses or Aretha Franklin's I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You.  The album displays a confidence and ease, even humor (see especially the playful "Cathouse Blues"), that many artists display moments of at the start of their career but lose as these years and recordings pile up.

What fans gain is one of the year's best albums and instant classics with "The Dealer," "Mable Normand," "Blue Water," "Lady," "Belle Fleur," "She Loves Him Still" and "Cathouse Blues."