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Bella Donna was launched in 1981 alongside Stevies career with Fleetwood Mac. This album, the first of her solo efforts is still today as fresh as it was in 1981. There is a timeless quality from this album and it is no surprise that the album still remains to be a top seller. It was released on Modern Records set up by two of her closest friends and for a time her albums were released on this label. Why bother reviewing this album if it is so old? Well for starters it doesnt appear on Dooyoo until now and Stevie Nicks has just released an exciting if not expensive CD & DVD package which holds her very greatest hits. As much as a few songs are already taken from this album and if youre a fan of 1975s Fleetwood Mac and after this date, then Bella Donna, the album can be bought for little as £1-99 on CD format if you know where to look. ** This is a long review and appeared originally on Ciao **
Ten songs make up this album, with two duets from two different rock artists, Tom Petty singing Stevies first single from this album, with Stop Draggin My Heart Around, and Don Henley singing a duet with Stevie on Leather and Lace. It would be another 17 years before the extended version of this song would be added to her best of boxed set series, (Enchanted The Enchanted Works of Stevie Nicks.). But for the moment it is the original version featured on this album.
** Track Listings: **
1. Bella Donna
The title track Bella Donna doesnt create much of an impression despite being the first song of the album. But it does show off the musicians on the album with Waddy Wachtel supplying guitar and Benmont Tench (K.D Lang has recorded with him, also) as director as well as keyboard player. As from songs such as "Rhiannon," Stevie Nicks loves to use third personas in her songs and Bella Donna is only the first in a series of pseudonyms and reality scenes. Always using someone else as a basis for creativity, Stevie weaves a story of a woman in love, coming in...Out of the darkness, alongside an upbeat tempo but feels that it doesnt really go anywhere. The fragility of the character however is mirrored in a very young Stevie Nicks voice, even harrowing and refining the trademark warble but becomes stronger and powerful the more the song cajoles the listener on.
Whilst the song is quite long in the way it unfolds the story, I cant but help and wonder whether Stevie intended this as a big opening of what the album entails even though plainly it is obvious that the instrumentals such as electric guitar, solid piano, drum kits and a thumping bass line indicate some of her roots as a country/soft rock artiste but at the same time not forgetting some influence of folk tradition.
2. Kind of Woman
Kind Of Woman, is slow and retrospective, spinning off ideas from the song before, but in the same key differentiated only in a minor key. She says that this kind of woman is someone that could love you but haunt you at the same time. In a lot of ways, people who know Fleetwood Mac and their history would say that for most of her life, Stevie never really gets over the break up with Lindsey Buckingham. Perhaps this is a song that shows this. Ive loved it for its slow sorrowful way it unfolds though even though she repeats the chorus line Kind of woman who could haunt you... but it is not a weak song reiterated by the guitars and a heavy bass line although it dips and falls like tears...
3. Stop Draggin My Heart Around
Stop Draggin My Heart Around, is a song that Tom Petty originally offered to Stevie. His band, the Heartbreakers, were not going to record this song, so the song was passed over to Stevie who then turned it into a duet as a mark of respect. It is unclear personally whether Stevie had an affair with Tom Petty but he remains to be one of her strongest musical influences. This song also gave Stevie a good chart position in the U.S as well as thrusting her writing and style into the limelight against the usual creations she has done with Fleetwood Mac.
It is however a song which appears as if both writers did have a hand in it. The solo output of Stevie Nicks, for a time was second to the work she did with Fleetwood Mac even though most of her discography comes from her solo hand rather than collaborative work with the band. As such although this song has hallmarks of soaring backing vocals, it has a blocky nature of movement and doesnt really flow until Stevie starts to get strong and hurtful with the lyrics. Perhaps this is why this song is best remembered, for its lyrics and duet nature rather than the music itself.
4. Think About It
Think About It, is written for Christine McVie and features a steady boppy rhythm not unlike a style similar to Fleetwood Mac. Christine McVie has forever said that she would retire from the music business and it would not be until 2003/4 after the final Dance album by Fleetwood Mac (1997) that she would finally retire. She had done this several times with Chicken Shack before she really meant it and then joined Fleetwood Mac a year later! So, this song by Stevie is really about their friendship and any intent in the future (then) if Christine had any ideas about leaving serves this song as a warning of what she is leaving behind.
5. After The Glitter Fades
After The Glitter Fades, is one of my favourite songs. This is a true country song laced with sorrow and shows future creativity in Stevies style in other country songs that artists such as Emmy Lou Harris and Dolly Parton would eventually cover later on. What is more remarkable about this song, despite its age is that it never seems dated. It holds a lot of reality in the way the lyrics paint the story about fortune and luxury (another scenario that Stevie would incorporate in a song called Nomad, which would then surface into another song called Sorcerer from her demos and then appear in her 2001 album Trouble in Shangri-La, and a single with Sheryl Crow.) But to return to this idea, this could well be an old fashioned love song with the way the country guitar paints its primary solo, harking in and out like a warning rather than an accompanying figure in the music.
6. Edge of Seventeen
Edge of Seventeen is a great song that Stevie sings in her live concerts. Recent sampling from Destinys Child in their song Bootylicious brought a new audience to
Stevie Nicks and the video from Destinys Child gave the world a glimpse of Stevie at the beginning of their video playing the guitar lick. Incidentally, the American version of this album is reported to have a clearer version of this song with Stevie singing more whoops but this cannot be clarified as I only have the UK release. The reason to why she sings Just like a white winged dove singing Whoo Whoo Whoo... is purely for the reason that a white winged dove does make a similar Whoo effect when it sings rather than Coo, like a pigeon! Regardless, whilst this song is defiant and strong by the lyrics and both the electric guitars diddling and trilling on a single note, the song is all about the death of her Uncle.
I am mystified that in later years Stevie Nicks has to explain this song to listeners who didnt quite get what the song was all about. Its as clear as crystal as to what the song is all about and how she runs down a hall looking for someone to take cover with as her Uncle died. The song is also reportedly inspired by the death of John Lennon and at a period where everyone appeared to be upset, not just Stevie Nicks. Whilst the song may well be sad, it is also aired on the film, School of Rock. The live versions of this song are fantastic but on this album its a rocking gem which sits alongside other songs, but still sits as one of the brightest stars on this album.
7. How Still My Love
How Still My Love is nothing more but a slow off beat tempo track but it cannot be ignored for the poetry between the instruments and the styles of harmonies. It does sound like a little like Dreams, from the Fleetwood Mac years though but I love the silence of this song, and the way it unfolds.
8. Leather and Lace
Leather and Lace with Don Henley singing alongside Stevie marks the albums second duet. This song seems to be absent of another verse which doesnt bond together well, but the message is there in the song for all to hear. The extended version on Stevies boxed set is much better. Though it isnt apparent from the first time you play this song, the extended version gels better with the added verse. This song could almost have been another duet with Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers but there is a slight tinge of sorrow in Henleys voice which lines well with Stevies harmonies.
So whats the style like? Well its more than a country inspired duet even though Don Henleys voice is indeed very high and sits well with Stevies alto voice. You can either love or loathe this songs and whilst I dont loathe it, Im not a fan of Stevies country duets, rather preferring the singer herself to go it alone rather than do one out of a love relationship.
9. Outside The Rain
Outside The Rain is a song that Stevie usually sings at the beginning of every live concert that she has done at the start of her official tours. The song should have been put at the beginning of the album because its style is upbeat and promising. However the message here clearly, is a line that she would eventually use to describe some future events in her life saying that Love is a game that some entertain...if you find it, you have won the game... Musically and instrumentally it uses the same electric guitars, drums, bass line and piano rather than keyboards which could well have been a more back to basics appeal rather than straddling the commercial market back then with electronic effects.
10. The Highwayman
The Highwayman, follows another story but this time about a highwayman. For many years there have been different interpretations of this song. As far as I know, Stevie Nicks has never chosen to sing this song live and for good reason. It is too long and not elaborate enough to stand on its own as a track suitable for anything other than a farewell to the end of the album. Tom Petty sings backing vocals on this song but nothing major enough to warrant the title of a duet.
Musically it is a slow ballad, reminiscent of a slow waltz although it is plainly in a usual regular beat. But the song turns into more of a fairy tale than anything else even if some parts remain fictitious.
** Inlay Design & Pricing **
On CD formats, Bella Donna comes with a few pictures of a young Stevie Nicks and lyrics which have been printed with kind permission.
For the price of around £5-99 to £9-99 (I paid £9-99 years ago from HMV Record shop) Bella Donna doesnt appeal as a cheap budget record even though its price may state so, but it does pay to shop around for a bargain price rather than pay £13-99 for limited editions which may well have been pressed in the U.S rather than the U.K Some followers for example believe that songs are different than the versions which appear in Europe and the U.K but I have never heard differences between the songs on either pressing from either country.
** Conclusion **
As an album, if you like pop and rock music albums without any keyboards or electronic trickery and adore Fleetwood Mac from Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks arrival, then Bella Donna serves up hits and songs which could have made their way onto several records made by Fleetwood Mac.
By its nature, Bella Donna is a very bare album musically and you can hear the dense reverb hitting off the guitars and percussion in the studio. The acoustics are there for all to enjoy though if not to inspire and to listen to heavy provocative lyrics wrapped around songs where the harmonies have been pushed into the music rather than appear simplistic and formulaic. If Stevie Nicks hadn't had put her famous songs such as Landslide, Rhiannon and Crystal on the Fleetwood Mac albums, this album would have had the songs on it although Crystal appears on Stevie and Lindseys only solo duo album, Buckingham Nicks. Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2007.
Previews of all of the songs from this album can be heard at:
EMI/Modern Records label
1981 Launch date.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Kind Of Woman
3 Stop Draggin' My Heart Around - Nicks, Stevie & Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
4 Think About It
5 After The Glitter Fades
6 Edge Of Seventeen
7 How Still My Love
8 Leather And Lace
10 Outside The Rain