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Two to Tango (5/30/2003) Write to CD Shakedown
Fleetwood Mac - Say You WillFleetwood Mac, Say You Will (Reprise 2003) - The Big Mac is back. For its first studio recordings since 1987's Tango in the Night, Fleetwood Mac creates a sound that it accessible, familiar, and contemporary. Which is to say, there should be several hit singles, even with the despicable status of rock radio.

With the departure of long time member Christine McVie, Fleetwood Mac now consists of Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie. Fleetwood and McVie have been together for more than 35 years, forming one of the most enduring rhythm and base sections in rock history.

Fleetwood Mac - Say You WillSay You Will began as a solo recording by Lindsey Buckingham. Says the guitar player and studio wizard, "I've been working on a solo album for a long time [and I invited Mick Fleetwood and John McVie to my home studio.] It was a real catharsis. We really hadn't been in the studio since Tango in the Night and getting together again, working on new material, really reaffirmed our fighting spirit. We had a quasi-intervention and then got down to work."

Fleetwood Mac - Say You WillContinues John McVie, "We were originally going to get together for a few weeks. It turned into a year. The fact was, we were enjoying ourselves tremendously. I wouldn't say it was exactly like old times. We'd all let a lot of things go and were free to concentrate on the music."

You should hear a lot of Say You Will on the radio. If I were the record company, the first single I'd release is the title track, which sounds like vintage Fleetwood Mac. I'd also give serious thought to servicing the first track, "What's the World Coming To," and the more subdued "Thrown Down."

Fleetwood Mac - Say You WillThe departure of Christine McVie means that Fleetwood Mac cannot re-create its classic 70s sound. Says Stevie, "I knew the guys were working together, although at that time none of us had any idea how it would turn out. Lindsey asked me if I had any material lying around, so I gave him a collection of 17 demos I had done, stretching from 1976 all the way up to some songs that didn't make it onto Shangri-La."

Adds Lindsey, "Once we got Stevie's songs, the recording took on a life of its own. Without anybody really saying as much, we knew we were doing the next Fleetwood Mac album."

Fleetwood Mac - Say You WillFleetwood Mac has enjoyed unimaginable success, with worldwide album sales to date in excess of 70 million units. How do they get it up? Says Stevie, "Creative tension never dies. We've always had our differences and we always will. But through it all we've managed to be smart about what matter."

Fleetwood Mac - Say You WillAdds Mick, "Somehow we've always managed to stay in touch with the spirit of Fleetwood Mac. Let's face it. We're not all just saying hello to each other. We are connected very deeply. It's been a seamless journey, it's just the logistics that sometimes need working out."

The beef with Say You Will is a familiar one - the album is too long, at 76 minutes. Ever since the glorious failure of Tusk, we've known the Lindsey Buckingham is a studio wiz. Listen for the imaginative guitar stylings on "Red Rover" and "Say Goodbye" and try to deny that Buckingham is a world-class guitarist.

Fleetwood Mac - Say You WillBut we also know that Buckingham has trouble editing his own material. He's good, damned good, but he runs too long. With 18 tracks clocking in at 76 minutes, Say You Will is too much to digest in one sitting. The album should have been broken into a double-disc of nine songs each. Thirty-eight to forty minutes of music per disk is a lot more digestible. You can hit the repeat button and absorb the music.

When you get an 18-track behemoth like Say You Will, it's almost painful to hit the repeat button (heck, the first play alone lasts an hour and 15 minutes). This detracts from the listening experience, because you can't take the full draw from this recording.

Fleetwood Mac - Say You WillThe only way to soak up a rock recording is listen to it again and again. That's why Fleetwood Mac and Rumours were mega-hits - because each was a digestible length, and could be played repeatedly. The same does not hold true for Say You Will - after one complete play through, you want a break, instead of wanting to hit the repeat button. And that's what separates the good from the great.

But with that criticism, Say You Will is an entertaining return to form. Expect Fleetwood Mac to satisfy fans old and new.

Moe - WormwoodMoe, Wormwood (I Music 2003) - With ten recordings in the last 11 years, the jam band Moe has earned a solid following on the concert scene. While Wormwood is a studio production, it shows the band with a strong sense of purpose.

Formed in Buffalo, New York in 1991, Moe consists of Robert Derhak on vocals and bass, Chuck Garvey on vocals and guitars, Al Schnier on vocals on guitars, Vinnie Amico on drums, and Jim Loughlin on percussion. Wormwood is the follow-up to 2001 recordings Dither (recorded in the studio) and Warts and All Vol. 1 (recorded live).

Moe - WormwoodFor Wormwood, the band took its recent live performances into the studio. Says Al Schnier, "We decided to take basic tracks from our show and use them as the foundation for this record. That way we can capture the spirit we get on stage while making a killer studio album at the same time."

Thus, the band decided that it would do only new material, arranged in different sequences, each with its own segues, and played "entirely in the moment." Adds guitarist Chuck Garvey, "It's risky. Just like our concerts, it takes chances."

Moe - WormwoodAs revealed on Wormwood, Moe is an incredibly tight combo. And the songs are not all bantering numbers: the majority clock in at five minutes or less, and the longest is 7:54.

The best tracks are "Okayalright," which is an Allman Brothers-inspired rocker. While lyrically on the weak side (lots of "okay alright"), the track is a first-rate guitar rock burner. Also listen for "Shoot First," which brings to mind the vocal stylings of Sacramento's lamented, Cake.

Jam band or not, "Okayalright" is one of the best guitar rock tracks I've heard in a long time, a recording that would make Ted Nugent or Cheap Trick proud. Put the top down, turn it up loud.

Led Zeppelin - How the West Was WonLed Zeppelin, How the West Was Won (Atlantic Records 2003) - As we approach 25 years since the death of legendary drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham (Gawd - hard to believe that much time has passed!), Atlantic Records has trotted out two releases from the archives. How the West Was Won is a triple-CD set, complied from concerts recorded at the Los Angeles Forum and Long Beach Arena on June 25th and 27th, 1972.

Not surprisingly, there's some good and some. The good includes a cool live version of "Stairway to Heaven," from before the song became a 70s rock standard. Other surprises include preview versions of songs from one of Zep's best album, Houses of the Holy (which was soon to be released after the concerts) including "Dancing Days."

Led Zeppelin - How the West Was WonLed Zeppelin remains one of the most credible acts in the history of rock. When your lead singer is quoted as saying, "I was the king of cock rock," you have a reputation to live up to.

There are ton of live Zeppelin bootlegs on the market, but only one other official live recording, The Song Remains the Same. And really, out of all of the Zeppelin albums (I have them all, both on vinyl and in the CD cube), The Song Remains the Same is one of the last I'd reach for, as it always brings to mind the weird, trippy film.

Led Zeppelin - How the West Was WonIs How the West was Won an improvement over The Song Remains the Same? How could it not be? Is it enough of an improvement to be worth $22? (Happy to report that I paid $16.99 on the day of release at Best Buy.)

Sorry to say, no. I acknowledge - there are moments. The medley on "Whole Lotta Love," which weaves in songs made famous by Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, and Muddy Waters, is fun. The length of the CDs is perfect - around 50 minutes each. Just like in the old days of vinyl.

Led Zeppelin - How the West Was WonAnd, of course, you'll hear raves about the 15-16 minute drum solo by Bonzo on "Moby Dick," which stands as the highlight of the CD. Yet, the studio recordings have better Bonzo solos. Start with Coda, which is a lesson book in big league rock drumming.

But there are downsides. No artwork, for one. Not one picture of the band.

However, the biggest problem is the sound quality. How the West was Won simply does not sound like a soundboard recording. (I've heard plenty of boots - I know what we hear.) There's something missing from the mid-and-upper ranges. Thus, How the West was Won sounds like an audience recording.

Led Zeppelin - How the West Was WonAnd that's a major bring-down. If this was a newly-uncovered bootleg, hard-core fans would be going ga-ga for How the West was Won. But that's the market segment that will be attracted. You'll come away unfulfilled by the live set, and won't play it over and over. Instead, you'll reach for the classics, like Physical Graffiti. Disappointing, but only because our expectations were impossibly high.

- Randy Krbechek © 2003

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