ROTW: Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna (Warner/Rhino 180g remaster)

Bella Donna doesn’t sound like a debut solo effort. But then, by the time Stevie Nicks finally got around to recording her first album in 1981, she was a seasoned 33-year old performer, most notably as a major vocal and creative force with supergroup Fleetwood Mac.

Fleetwood Mac had reached the pinnacle of its commercial and artistic success, riding the wave of global adoration created by a trio of albums comprising the eponymous Fleetwood Mac, the blockbuster Rumours, and the experimental Tusk.

The influence of Nicks and partner Lindsay Buckingham on Fleetwood Mac was as far-reaching as it was successful. The duo met up with what remained of the post-Peter Green Fleetwood Mac in Los Angeles, and the rest is history.

Nicks’ husky, soaring vocals and strong sense of melody made a solo project almost inevitable, and when she released Bella Donna, it not only showcased those talents, but also provided a clear indication of her influence within Fleetwood Mac.

That said, it’s very much a Stevie Nicks effort, assisted by a host of accomplished and even famous artists. Most notably, Bella Donna establishes the creative ties between Nicks and session guitarist Waddy Wachtel – a relationship that would continue throughout her solo career.

The set’s ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’, featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, is perhaps the best-known track on the album, closely followed by ‘Edge Of Seventeen’, with its catchy electric guitar.

Then there’s the more reflective ‘Leather And Lace’, which also stars the vocal talents of The Eagles’ Don Henley, although it’s less of a duet and more of a guest appearance – almost an endorsement of the project.

Other luminaries on the credit list include drummer Russ Kunkel, guitarist Don Felder, and the E Street Band’s Roy Bittan on piano.

Much more influential in a collaborative sense is long-time Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, who is credited as Bella Donna’s musical director, and plays organ on all the tracks, as well as contributing several musical bridges to Nicks’ compositions.

Perhaps most surprising is the depth of content here. While the hit singles are the obvious attractions, the 10-track line-up has no low points, and many of the lesser known songs emerge as highlights in their own right.

The title track is a case in point: it displays a confidence and inventiveness that showcases Nicks’ vocal and compositional talents, while still pressing all the buttons as far as accessibility and earworm appeal are concerned.

The production, under Jimmy Iovine, best known for his work with Tom Petty and Patti Smith at the time, lucidly captures Nicks’ charisma, steering clear of any unnecessary gloss or trickery, and allowing an unencumbered, finely focussed view of the music.

Remastered by Chris Bellman and pressed on 180g vinyl, this re-release by Warner and Rhino makes the most of that production, while the artwork includes an inner sleeve with full credits and lyrics.

Performance: 9
Recording: 8,5
Pressing: 8
Artwork/cover: 7
Price: R400
Supplied by: Audio Nut