Sunny Side of Heaven: Bare Trees at 50

Why the singular album from this incredibly short-lived iteration of Fleetwood Mac still endures

Bare Trees on 8-Track (Image: Discogs)

There are few bands, British or American, who can claim to have as chameleon-like career as that of Fleetwood Mac.

Formed as an essential blues band at the height of England’s blues boom, it was originally spun off from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers by Mac’s two namesake principals and the brilliant, if erratic, guitarist Peter Green. The newly-formed outfit maintained that struct regimen through their first four albums, although once Green departed (due to a combination of drug ingestion and mental instability), the band changed its tack and opted for a more accessible sound that mostly eschewed basic blues in favor of the more melodic approach that came courtesy of material mined from guitarist Danny Kirwan, vocalist/keyboardist Christine McVie and recently recruited guitarist, writer and vocalist Bob Welch, an American brought in to replace the newly departed Jeremy Spencer.

Fleetwood Mac Bare Trees, Reprise Records 1972

To be sure, Bare Trees didn’t mark an immediate change in the band’s trajectory, given that their previous two efforts, Future Games and Kiln House had already shown signs that they were intent on pursuing a soft rock sound akin to that of America’s West Coast contingent. However, it did find Welch and McVie moving solidly to the fore in the role of principal songwriters, and, in turn, easily in a position to take the helm and influence the band’s future direction.

Two of the album’s standout songs — Welch’s “Sentimental Lady” and McVie’s “Spare Me A Little of Your Love” — would find longer lifespans via solo renditions and ongoing play on FM radio. Indeed, those mellow melodies helped bring Fleetwood Mac a mainstream audience while setting the stage for the mega-stardom the band would achieve a few years down the line once Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were integrated into the ensemble and allowed to transform it entirely.

Bare Trees back cover (Image: Discogs)

Those stand-outs aside, Bare Trees, released in March 1972, is a uniformly consistent effort, with songs such as Kirwan’s “Child of Mine, Christine McVie’s “Homeward Bound” and the instrumental “Sunny Side of Heaven” all adding to the allure. After years of changes in personal — the result of several derailed relationships — the band had seemingly struck on a formula that not only allowed them to reinvent themselves, but also put them on a course that would ensure continued commercial success.

Sadly, that promise didn’t last long. While the albums that followed — Penguin, Mystery To Me  and Heroes Are Hard To Find — are all admirable efforts, they failed to find the consistency or creativity that had hit its peak with Bare Trees.

 

 

Oddly enough, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were now reduced to the role of bystanders in the band that bore their name.

Meanwhile, this particular lineup of the Mac was over before it began. With the dismissal of Danny Kirwan after a violent backstage row in the midst of a summer ’72 tour supporting Bare Trees, and then the subsequent departure of Bob Welch a couple of years later, the Mac appeared to be little more than a group of hired hands who were merely attempting to pick up the pieces and extend the band’s brand.

It wouldn’t be until Buckingham and Nicks’ arrival in 1975 that the band was able to regain their stability and find the coherence that had eluded them for so long 

While that later version of Fleetwood Mac tends to overshadow all that came before, Bare Trees remains a generally unappreciated gem and easily among the best offerings within the Mac’s sprawling catalog.

Some 50 years on, Bare Trees is still in full bloom. 

 

AUDIO: Fleetwood Mac “Bare Trees”

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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