Sunday, September 25, 2011

Beautifully Rendered Fragments: Lindsay Buckingham’s Seeds We Sow

It must have been weird being in one of the world’s biggest groups, on the cover of Rolling Stone, writing a few top ten hits, and then settling in to a low key solo career.  Lindsey Buckingham describes it in recent interviews as the difference between being part of a giant machine, or a small business.  In Fleetwood Mac, he was responsible for creating the hits.  Even when he was taking songs written by Stevie Nicks or Christine McVie, he often added his own quirky touches to make the sonic sheen unique.  On his solo records he has tended to focus inward, to play all (or most) of the instruments, to harmonize with himself, and make music that is at once sonically superior, yet still maintaining a punky edge.  When I saw him in concert during a 2008 tour promoting Gift of Screws he played to a half empty theatre, but still gave one of the most exhilarating, rocking shows I’ve ever seen.

Seeds We Sow is a step back from Gift of Screws to a more low key, personal, folksy sound.  More like Under the Skin, the record that predated Screws. While he utilizes backup musicians sparingly on his solo releases, they are for the most part solo performances with Buckingham playing guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion and vocals.  In this way he builds a temple of audio that echoes his hero Brian Wilson.  The addition of a stray drummer or bass player, whether it is Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, or touring partners Wilfredo Reyes and John Pierce, does little to change the personality of the music.

The album begins in silence, when finger-picked guitar begins to grow in volume, and Buckingham’s voice goes from a whisper to not quite a scream. One is constantly surprised by the sounds he can draw from his guitar.  It’s a custom-made thing developed in consultation with luthier Rick Turner, and it has the same range as Buckingham’s voice.  It can sound like an acoustic, a classical, and it can also rock like crazy.

On Seeds We Sow, the guitar stays in the nylon string mode for much of the time, as Buckingham’s nimble finger-picking is featured. Speedy arpeggios replace riffs, and melodies rise and fall from the mix.  Sometimes you wonder if you really like this music or you’re just mesmerized by it.  Buckingham is an intense thoughtful lyricist, but his lyrics are repeated for effect, and you find yourself thinking about them as they roll around again and again.  For instance one song has a refrain that goes, “…the process of illumination, the process of illumination…” quite different from a process of elimination, but a process nonetheless.

When Buckingham produced Tusk for Fleetwood Mac, it was a weird oddball kind of record, not like the safe power pop he had led them to in Rumours.  His solo career has taken the Tusk model and lifted it to art.  The songs on Seeds We Sow feel like fragments, albeit beautifully rendered.  They work like small pieces of a whole, as if someone had cut up a Monet painting of water lilies to make a dozen smaller pieces, each one gorgeous in and of itself, but not necessarily making sense in its separate parts.

Lindsey Buckingham is one of my favourite artists, and I look forward to each of his albums, whether with the big machine, or on his own. Listening to his work opens a door for discussion between listener and player. I may not always agree with what he says, but I certainly respect him for saying it.

 David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas with his wife.

No comments:

Post a Comment