FLEETWOOD MAC Live At The Boston Tea Party (Vinyl Lovers)
Recorded during the band’s three day February 1970 stint at the titular venue, “Live At The Boston Tea Party” collates on four albums almost all the material previously released on the three volume “Live In Boston” CD; a couple of duplicate performances have been sacrificed here, presumably for reasons of space.
The three-guitarist lineup documented here, besides the ever-present rhythm section that gave the band its name, included Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan, representing a period of relative stability in the Mac family tree having been together since 1968. Supple yet muscular, with their blues roots and instrumental dexterity they were surely the closest post-Cream English equivalent to the Allmans or the Dead, Zep arguably being too showy and bombastic to compete here. However, like the aforementioned American bands, the Mac weren’t beyond turning a concert into an endurance test, as the two stamina-sapping 25-minute takes of onanist’s anthem “Rattlesnake Shake” (their “Dark Star”, their “Whipping Post”) included here attest. Presented in this relatively unexpurgated format, this is really an album for specialists, with even the sleevenotes admitting that the quality of the material presented fluctuates over the three hour duration. The principal offenders are some of the less structured performances – “Encore Jam” (on which Joe Walsh from support band the James Gang guests, as if what the Mac really needed at this time was a fourth guitarist) and “On We Jam”, for example, are as workmanlike as their titles suggest – and a glut of Little Richard covers that trade more on enthusiasm than inspiration. The nadir is reached on the faux-Elvis goonery of “Teenage Darling”, a low-wattage Zappa-esque 50s parody.
Nevertheless, when “Live At The Boston Tea Party” is good it can be electrifying. The best moments are when they lay gnarly waste to their singles repertoire: “The Green Manalishi” is a fleet-fingered equivalent of the satanic, sludgy blues Black Sabbath were brewing up at round about the same time, and “Oh Well” is performed ferociously, albeit, as with several other songs, a victim of some abrupt editing. Jeremy Spencer’s slide work on “The Sun Is Shining” is utterly scorching, and the slashing guitar attack that opens “Sandy Mary” even sounds eerily like Joy Division.
A mixed bag musically, then, and Vinyl Lovers’ “Live At The Boston Tea Party” is something of a curate’s breakfast sonically as well. The 140 gram pressings are flat and quiet, but, as with the other Vinyl Lovers reissues I own, some mysterious equalisation seems to have been applied that’s intent on scything great notches in my upper-midrange (at a guess) hearing. It’s something I find noticeable (and objectionable) within 30 seconds of the beginning of the album, yet after a few sides it’s stopped bothering me, and I actually find myself thinking that the sound quality’s pretty good, for what that’s worth. Despite those reservations, if you want this material on factory-fresh vinyl, it’s the only currently available option.
FLEETWOOD MAC Greatest Hits (Music On Vinyl)
Originally released in 1971, this compilation covers what might be considered the band’s blues period. However, this concentrated shot of their Peter Green-penned singles suggests that to categorise the Mac of the time as a blues band is to do them something of a disservice.
“The Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown)” models a kind of heavy, heavy pop, not a great distance away from what Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were fashioning in 7” form at the time. “Oh Well” borders on astonishing: its first part sculpts with silence in a bravura display of dynamics, its madrigalesque instrumental coda sounding like an outtake from the Floyd’s “More” soundtrack, a creative arrangement bringing in what sound like recorders and cellos. Even its loud/quiet structure is predictive of (D)erek’s “Layla”. “Black Magic Woman” is a pretty experimental rewiring of the blues, later respectfully covered by Santana, and the slow motion surf music of “Albatross” earns its proto-ambient stripes by being sampled on The KLF’s ambient house epic “Chill Out”. “Man Of The World” displays a frail world-weariness that would be worthy of Nick Drake if it were not for its subtle sci-fi shadings and the fact that people actually bought it at the time. Stacked up like this, these singles underline the depth of Peter Green’s songwriting talent, and to think of what his subsequent illness and seclusion has deprived the world of is to contemplate a tragedy of mislaid potential on the scale of Syd Barrett’s.
The balance of the album is made up of more staunchly traditional material, but even this is inventively presented. Elmore James’ “Shake Your Money Maker” zips along on some scorching slide work, and Little Willie John’s “Need Your Love So Bad” is luxuriant, its ache softened by a weeping string orchestration. With its soul revue horns “Stop Messin’ Round” sounds so evocative of the work of the Kings (B.B. and Albert) it’s a surprise to discover it’s a Peter Green co-write. Only the 12-bar onanist’s anthem “Rattle Snake Shake” and the mournful, downbeat closer “Love That Burns” disappoint.
Despite the slapdash nature of its construction (the sleeve note dismisses Danny Kirwan’s W H Davies adaptation “Dragonfly” as a “mediocre success”; one of the photos in the gatefold shows a Christine Perfect-era lineup that doesn’t actually contribute to the album) this is a surprisingly satisfying collection, vindicating the decision to reissue it on vinyl 40 years after the fact. Music On Vinyl’s pressing isn’t of the audiophile standard of which the cover sticker boasts, but it’s one of the better examples of this Dutch company’s work I’ve heard; perhaps there’s hope for them yet.