Don’t let the cover or album title fool you, because there’s nothing bare about this record at all – in fact quite the opposite. With Peter Green having walked out on Fleetwood Mac in 1970, the group were left to lumber along in a seeming no man’s land of musical uncertainty, unsure of what the future had in store. Their first post-Green LPs Kiln House and 1971’s Future Games were solid, if at times lightweight affairs, full of plenty of fun ‘50s inspired rockers and the odd serious number thrown in to keep the chin stroking brigade happy. But Bare Trees is something else entirely, finally seeing the band letting go of its past and beginning to establish a different sound altogether to the one it had previously relied on.
The rocking “Child of Mine”, written by Danny Kirwan, is a largely guitar driven tune, with moments that remind the listener of latter day Mac when Peter Green was still with the band. The song is generic, although enjoyable enough to merit its existence on the record. The same goes with the Santana-light “The Ghost”, another likable though non-specific groove song. Christine McVie contributes two originals, “Homeward Bound” and “Spare Me a Little of Your Love”, the former a piano/guitar dominated charger, while the latter is a white soul-blues ballad in the vein of The Allman Brothers.
Kirwin’s instrumental “Sunny Side of Heaven” is a decent attempt by Fleetwood at resurrecting the ghost of Green, but doesn’t quite have their former lead guitarist’s magic touch. “Bare Trees”, another Kirwin song, is upbeat, even joyous, albeit in a shallow kind of way. Bob Welch’s “Sentimental Lady” is pedestrian to say the least, although it does contain the poignant lines “We live in a time/where paintings have no colour/and words don’t rhyme”. The tough muscular riffs of “Danny’s Tune” has early Fleetwood written all over it, making it one of the better songs of the album, reminiscent of Then Play On, before the country-rock via Glastonbury “Dust” makes you want to blow out the candle and go to bed. Yes the lyrics are poet, and the arrangements thoughtful, but c’mon Danny, leave that stuff to Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention will you?
We finish with the strangely eccentric “Thoughts On a Grey Day”, a spoken word piece by an elderly woman, a one Mrs Scarrott, reciting a poem she herself had written. It makes for an odd ending I must say, and yet quite an endearing one – like listening to some old recording your great grandmother made on a wax cylinder.
Bare Trees is in no way a great album, nor a mediocre one. There are no particularly outstanding songs, nothing all that memorable, despite the professional playing throughout, and yet there is plenty the listener can take pleasure in. The perfect FM friendly pop of the Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham dominated Fleetwood Mac was still a few years off, however this record shouldn’t be ignored completely. Sure the Mac were still finding their way, like pilgrims on their very own musical progress, searching for that elusive formula, or missing ingredient they so sorely lacked since the departure of Peter Green.