Graded on a Curve: Fleetwood Mac,
Kiln House

We remember Fleetwood Mac’s Danny Kirwan who passed away on Friday, June 8 with a look back from our archives. Ed.

Long before Fleetwood Mac became thee greatest soft rock band of all time—1977’s Rumours sold approximately 17 billion copies, and everybody from the Shah of Iran to the killer whale at the San Diego Zoo were humming “Go Your Own Way”—Mick Fleetwood’s flagship was a bona fide English blues band. And charting said flagship’s Mac’s Columbus-like course from trad blues wannabes to soft rock heroes makes for an edifying listening experience.

Take 1970’s Kiln House. Guitar slingers Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan were in. Former guitar hero Peter Green was out. Christine McVie provided backing vocals, but was not yet a member of the band. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were doing whatever it is rock gods do before they become rock gods. Pursuing careers in professional badminton, perhaps. Anyway, Kiln House is a far more curious bird than Rumours or its groundbreaking predecessor, 1975’s Fleetwood Mac.

If Kiln House is short on the pop gems that stud Rumours and Fleetwood Mac, it’s light years away from the band’s blues origins as well. The truth is Kiln House is all over the place. Just check out the guitar heroics on such great tunes as “Tell Me All the Things You Do” and “Station Man.” And from there Mick and Company veer crazily from old school rock’n’rollers (a kick-ass cover of Fats Waller’s “Hi Ho Silver”) to country parody (the hilarious “Blood on the Floor”) to rockabilly tributes (a wacky cover of “Buddy’s Song,” which is credited to Buddy Holly’s mom, and “This Is a Rock,” which lopes and shuffles along at a lackadaisical but irresistible pace, putting anything ever recorded by the Stray Cats to shame).

And if that’s not enough variety for one LP, Kiln House also offers up the relatively mellow instrumental “Earl Gray,” the mellow and country-tinged “One Together,” and a Jefferson Airplane-meets-Buddy Holly cover of Jesse D. Hodge’s “Mission Bell” that comes at you like a knuckleball, but somehow reaches the catcher’s mitt as a strike. As for “Jewel-Eyed Judy,” it boasts some very laid-back verses juxtaposed between crashing choruses, and is chiefly noteworthy for totally flopping when released as a single.

I originally intended to write about Rumours. But what can you say about the goddamn album other than it’s both brilliant and a landmark? Kiln House is too eclectic to be called great, but that’s part of its knuckleball charm. It should be called The Many Moods of Fleetwood Mac. And it contains three songs for the ages in “Tell Me All the Things You Do,” “Hi Ho Silver,” and “Station Man.” I urge you to give it a listen. If only to disprove the old saw about leopards never changing their spots.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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