Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna – Rhino Entertainment

by | Mar 27, 2020 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews | 0 comments

Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna – Modern Records RCV1 38139/61349784980 (1981)/Rhino Entertainment (2020) Limited-Edition Re-mastered Gold Vinyl, 41:55 *****:

Fleetwood Mac skyrocketed to rock and roll fame with the release of the 1977 mega-album, Rumours. Singer/songwriter Stevie Nicks had joined the band with Lindsey Buckingham two years earlier. She contributed to the group’s success with hits like “Rhiannon”, “Landslide”, “Dreams” and “Sara”. Additionally, she was an in-demand collaborator and studio vocalist on songs like “Whenever I Call You Friend” (Kenny Loggins), “Gold” (John Stewart) and “Mohammed’s Radio” (Warren Zevon). As Fleetwood Mac had three performing songwriters, there was speculation about which of the stars would ascend to solo prominence. That question was quickly answered with the release of Nicks’ debut Bella Donna (1981). This album soared to #1 on the Billboard 200 Chart and produced 4 charting singles (“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, “Leather And Lace”, “Edge Of Seventeen” and “After The Glitter Fades”). Nicks would go on to record eight studio albums and tour successfully as a solo act and with Fleetwood Mac. Overall, she has been part of 50 Top 40 hits and sold over 140 million records worldwide. Stevie Nicks is the only women to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame twice. Additionally, she was designated by Rolling Stone as one of the 100 Greatest Songwriters Of All Time.

Rhino Entertainment has released a re-mastered vinyl (in stunning gold) of Bella Donna. It is easy to understand the impact of Nicks as a solo artist. She composed nine of the ten tracks and established herself as a force in the male-dominated world of rock music. In what would be a trend, Nicks assembled an all-star cadre of session musicians, including veterans Waddy Wachtel (Linda Ronstradt, Warren Zevon), Russ Kunkel (a key member of The Section), Roy Bittan (E Street Band), Tom Petty, Don Henley, Belmont Tench (Heartbreakers), Mike Campbell (Heartbreakers), Billy Payne (Little Feat) and Duck Dunn (Booker T & The MGs). Side One opens with the title track, a tight pop construct with a breezy tempo. Nicks’ earthy contralto reverberates and is surrounded by crisp rock accents. Sparkling harmony backup vocals (Lori Perry/Sharon Celani) enhance the aural power. Shifting to 3/4 time, “Kind Of Woman” has a cool vibe with a cascading piano (Bittan) and unique vocal phrasing. Like “Silver Springs”, a feminist admonition (“…Kind of woman that’ll haunt you, she matters to you…”)  is rendered with formidable pretense. Originally intended as a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers song, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” has become a rock classic. Nicks’ sultry, edgy delivery is an interesting counterpoint to Petty’s laid-back approach. The down and nasty jam by the Heartbreakers is full of hooks. Benmont Tench (organ) and Mike Campbell (guitar) turn this into a groove fest. The ethereal themes that inhabit Stevie Nicks’ songwriting are prevalent on “Think About It”. It has nimble pop sensibility, and Billy Payne’s jaunty piano expands the atmospherics. “After The Glitter Fades” displays country charm with lithe pedal steel riffs (Dan Dugmore) and a “down home” flow.

Side Two kicks off with perhaps the most recognizable Nicks composition, “Edge Of Seventeen”. Initially a reflection on a friend’s meeting with his future wife, the song was swayed by the deaths of family members and John Lennon. The distinctive “16th-note” guitar riff by Wachtel (C, D, Em progression) is compelling. Nicks’ gritty vocals merge perfectly with the hard-charging, instrumental frame. The overall vocals (Nicks, Petty Celani) are stirring with a deft call and response. The evocative take on loss utilizes mystic imagery (“white winged dove”) to tell the tale. The song has taken on a life of its own in television and movie soundtracks. “How Still My Love” adapts a slower tempo with introspective, personal lyrics (“…Still the same old story, what price glory…”). Nicks’ duet largesse is evident on the cut with Don Henley, “Leather And Lace”. This pop/country ballad was written for Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, but is an integral part of Bella Donna. Nicks injects heartfelt soul, while ruminating on her place in the world (“…I have my own life, and I am stronger than you know…”). Henley’s upper-register complements her voice and the harmony is exceptional. It appears that “Outside The Rain” is classic early 80’s AOR with veiled references to her former band (“…Well it’s one more link in the chain, I don’t believe that…”, “…Baby there’s no one that can take my place…”). The finale (“The Highwayman”) is a different perspective on the outlaw  narrative. Lyrics like “…And only the highway-woman keeps up with the likes of those…” reveals a commensurate role in the dues-paying burden of relationships. It is essential country music with a twist.

Rhino Entertainment has done a superlative job in re-mastering Bella Donna to vinyl. The production and sound mix is crisp. The elaborate tracking is blended flawlessly. Above all, Nick’s unique voice is centered and is never upstaged by the instrumentals.

A limited edition re-mastered vinyl of Stevie Nick’s solo debut is a fitting tribute to a groundbreaking artist. 

Performing Artists:
Stevie Nicks – vocals; Russ Kunkel – drums; Waddy Wachtel – guitar; Davey Johnstone – acoustic guitar; Bob Glaub – bass; Bobbye Hall – percussion; Bill Elliott – piano; Benmont Tench – organ; David Adelstein – synthesizer; Roy Bittan – piano; Tom Petty – guitar, vocals; Michael Campbell – guitar; Duck Dunn – bass; Stan Lynch – drums; Phil Jones – percussion; Billy Payne – piano; Dan Dugmore – pedal steel guitar; Don Henley – drums, vocals; Tom Moncrieff – bass; Richard Bowden – bass; Sharon Celani – backup vocals; Lori Perry – backup vocals

Side One: 
Bella Donna
Kind Of Woman
Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
Think About It
After The Glitter Fades

Side Two: 
Edge Of Seventeen
How Still My Love
Leather And Lace
Outside The Rain
The Highwayman

—Robbie Gerson

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