Black Magic Woman - Rolling Stone
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Black Magic Woman

Thanks to the near-permanent success of the current Fleetwood Mac LP, virtually all the band’s pre-Warner Bros. material – featuring guitarists Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer – is back on the market. The best stuff is to be found on Fleetwood Mac in Chicago (Sire), a double album cut in ’69 at the Chess studios, with real-life black bluesmen sitting in. A year ago, when this album was out of print, it was selling for 20 bucks, and it’s worth it. The Fleetwood Mac that cut this album was a rough, derivative band, full of enthusiasm and committed to their music (they showed their scholarship with their first single, “Rambling Pony,” a slight rewrite of an unearthly version of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” cut in 1951 by Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Leroy Foster; they also showed their limitations, because they couldn’t handle it). The shade of Elmore James smiled on the band, and never more so than on Chicago, when Jeremy Spencer cut loose with four straight live-in-the-studio tributes; as a singer and as a guitarist, he met his master on almost equal terms. “Madison Blues” – despite the fact that Mick Fleetwood can’t find a beat – is a celebration of everything in the blues that winks at pain, with fine, loping tenor sax from Chicagoan J.T. Brown and beautifully free guitar work by Spencer; “I’m Worried” and “I Can’t Hold Out” both feature the classic Robert Johnson riff out of which, as Peter Guralnick has written, Elmore James made a career – he and Spencer, that is. These cuts soar; they are glorious. The guitar rings, flies out of the band, with Willie Dixon high-lighting the best moments with the subtlest, most precise little touches on his string bass, and though there may be more to rock & roll than this, listening, one feels there doesn’t have to be. As for the singing – well, no white man ever threw away the last word of a blues lyric with more flair, or more humor, than Jeremy Spencer, who has since thrown it all away for God. Most of Chicago is appealing, but “I’m Worried” and “I Can’t Hold Out” are small works of art.

“Love That Burns” is also a work of art, but not a small one. A case can be made that it is the finest white recording of the blues ever made – certainly of slow blues, though Duane Allman’s opening solo on Boz Scaggs’s “Loan Me a Dime” may match it. Perhaps one should say of pure blues: there is not an element in the music in debt to any other form. “Love That Burns” is an exquisite piece from the first note to the last: quiet, sagging horns; the echoed, ghostly taps of Mick Fleetwood’s plain-speech drumming; and most of all, the singing and guitar playing of Peter Green, who cowrote the tune. Unlike all but a handful of his white contemporaries, Green understood that the secret of the blues is in restraint – in the choice not only of notes but of the silences between the notes – and none of his contemporaries equaled the understanding he displayed here. His beautiful crying vocal sounds not black but what it sounds like; his guitar playing bends your emotions, lets them go, lets them rest, takes them back, demanding all the empathy you have to give, until, for a time, any other recording sounds & little overwrought, inarticulate, unsure. From the 1969 LP English Rose, “Love That Burns” can be heard on either Vintage Years (Sire) or Black Magic Woman (Epic), both two-record sets that overlap somewhat; Vintage Years is probably better, if only for a version of “Need Your Love So Bad.”

The early Fleetwood Mac had its own sound. Christine McVie has had hers since she released “Spare Me a Little of Your Love” on FM’s 1972 Bare Trees LP, but on the evidence of The Legendary Christine Perfect Album (Sire), cut when she was between Chicken Shack and FM, she didn’t in 1969. I’ve found McVie irresistible over the years, probably because in looks and voice she’s the closest thing in rock & roll to Blythe Danner, but none of the talent for melody, arranging of vocals and instrumental textures, or pure heart-on-her-sleeve brassiness that has given her recent work its strength is present on Perfect. There are good tunes – “Wait and See,” which reminds me of Donovan’s “Bert’s Blues” in feeling, and a remake of Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” – but fans McVie won with “Over My Head” or “Say You Love Me” would do better to dig up the likes of Penguin and Heroes Are Hard to Find. Ever hear “Remember Me”?

This story is from the October 21st, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.


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