Dec 26, 2016 Web Exclusive
Stevie Nicks' debut solo album was conceived at a time of change within her main band, Fleetwood Mac. The group had recently released Tusk, the most varied and unconventionally sounding album of the Buckingham-Nicks incarnation, and had embarked upon an extensive and wide-reaching tour supporting the release. It was the very early 1980s. The musical landscape was changing around the juggernaut band and it was trying to adapt. The dates for Tusk were exhaustive and exhausting, and inter-band tensions were at a high. Within this maelstrom of circumstance, Bella Donna was conceived.
With some songs in tow, Nicks requested Jimmy Iovine to produce what would become her first solo effort based on his work with Tom Petty. Iovine and Nicks became a couple. Iovine hand-picked musicians for the project, including Roy Bittan from Bruce' Springsteen's E Street Band, Benmont Tench, Stan Lynch, and Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers, Don Henley and Don Felder from Eagles, Waddy Wachtel and Russ Kunkel from Linda Ronstadt's band, Davey Johnstone from Elton John's band, and Billy Payne of Little Feat. And with background vocalists Sharon Celani and Lori Petty, the supergroup of sorts began recording.
Bella Donna yielded four singles and three monster hits: lead single, the Tom Petty-penned "Stop Dragging My Heart Around," the Don Henley duet "Leather and Lace," and Nicks' signature solo piece, "Edge of Seventeen." The fourth single, "After the Glitter Fades," didn't fare as well on the charts, but might be the most exciting of the bunch to revisit all these years later.
Rhino's extensive Fleetwood Mac reissue series continues here with this revisiting of Bella Donna in a three-disc set that, in addition to the album proper, explores its creation and a concert from the short solo tour that followed its release. The reissue first presents the album in its entirety. The shame of relistening to Bella Donna 35 years on is that the album as a whole gets lost in what was the '80s omnipresence of the singles. Those songs were played so often that one can still practically hear them in one's sleep. A few things that stick out among the radio-friendly fray are "Think About It," the melodic masterpiece written for Mac's Christine McVie, urging her to not quit Fleetwood Mac, and the California country of "After the Glitter Fades," a beautiful melody accentuated by session player Dan Dugmore's whining pedal steel guitar.
The second disc of the package includes demos, alternate versions, and a couple soundtrack cuts from the era. Unreleased versions of "If You Were My Love" and "The Dealer" from the Bella Donna sessions are of special interest for their later re-emergence on Nicks' 2014 album 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault. A spare Nicks-only version of "Leather and Lace" is included, as is a beatific piano-only demo of the album's title track.
A third CD documents Nicks' final show from her brief Bella Donna solo tour, on December 13, 1981 at the Fox Wilshire Theatre in L.A. The 14-song set, some of which was previously released on Nicks' In Concert VHS, documents Nicks just before she had to cut her tour short at two weeks to decamp to France where Fleetwood Mac had already begun work on 1982's Mirage. The concert finds Nicks at the peak of her newfound solo fame, in brilliant voice and with band in perfect form. Yet a tinge of melancholy oversees the affair, as Nicks was being pulled back to earth. Fleetwood Mac would be looking back with Mirage, trying to recapture the magic of 1976's smash Rumours, while Nicks' solo superstardom was organically growing outside of her main band's confines. One can hear every emotion in Nicks' delivery.
Aside from the music, the Bella Donna reissue hits a home run with comprehensive liner notes that are essential, providing context and content to explain all of what Bella Donna was and is, where it came from and where it ultimately led Stevie Nicks, to a long and proficient history as a solo artist apart of one of history's most famous bands. As Fleetwood Mac's commercial star was falling, Nicks' was skyrocketing. This reissue is an essential document of that time. (www.stevienicksofficial.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
Average reader rating: 9/10
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