Picks and Pans Review: Home, Home on the Road
Bowers is widely regarded as the leading virtuoso on the autoharp, and even if you've never heard anyone else play it, this album is pretty convincing proof of his superiority. He uses a five-finger picking technique across 36 tightly wound strings, bathing the listener in ethereal, joyously resonant major chords in the folk idiom. Bowers also has distinct gifts as singer and songwriter. His Berkeley Woman, a hit for John Denver, is delivered with a plaintive earnestness here. Similarly, his Prison Song is devastatingly bitter, but falls short of self-pity. In jail, the lyric observes, "If you wanna stay out of trouble/You only got two choices/You can be a Bible thumper/Or the crazy who hears voices." On several cuts Bowers gets superb support from mandolinist Sam Bush and members of a remarkable group, the Seldom Scene. Bowers' label, the Chicago-based Flying Fish Records, deserves special tribute for uncovering and preserving such giants of the folk genre.
FLEETWOOD MAC LIVE
Despite the intragroup fussing and philandering that kept rumors buzzing for years, Fleetwood Mac hung in and still has interesting musical things to say together. Though this double LP relies largely on monster sellers, it harks back in style to the freewheeling blues-band days of the early '70s before the group enjoyed such wild commercial success. This is decidedly a warts-and-all recording of 18 tunes captured during the '79-'80 tour that took the Fleetwood Mac everywhere from Albuquerque to Auckland. Some songs were taped at small gatherings of friends; daringly, the group did not churn out mechanical copies of what they've done in the studio. They improve on their previous version of Never Going Back Again, for instance, but fail miserably when they stretch out for 8:28 minutes a dreary instrumental jam on I'm So Afraid. The foundation remains the irascible rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. Stevie Nicks' voice is as delectably raspy as ever on Sara, her trademark Rhiannon and a new tune, Fireflies. Christine McVie smolders on her previously unrecorded One More Night and presumably is responsible for getting Beach Boy-in-law Brian Wilson (brother of her romantic interest, Dennis Wilson) to contribute a sunny new tune titled The Farmer's Daughter. Since Mac's experimental Tusk in 1979, Lindsey Buckingham has been the creative force, and his guitar work and enthusiasm balance his often quirky vocal gymnastics. This is a live album you can appreciate without having been there.