Friday, October 17, 2008

An underrated little gem: Stevie Nicks' Street Angel

Don't judge an album by the artist's life at the time of its production.

Stevie Nicks' 1994 release Street Angel was dismissed by the majority of critics as being insipid and stale. I listened to it for the first time over 10 years ago on cassette, and perhaps I was over-influenced by the comments. I found myself at Cheapo Records in Central Square, Cambridge the other evening, looking for used CDs while waiting for my take-away dinner at the Indian restaurant next door. At $3.99, I had to buy a copy, as it's the only Stevie studio album I don't own.

Of course, quality of sound differs greatly on a CD opposed to cassettes (does anyone even own a tape recorder anymore?). The CD possesses high-quality production values that are superior in fact to Rock a Little (1983) and even to Wild Heart (1983) – though not superior to the songs.

Overall, these are beautifully written songs from the catchy pop sound of "Blue Denim" to the poignant "Greta" (alluding to the screen goddess) and the wistful "Maybe Love Will Change Your Mind." Even her cover of the Bob Dylan classic "Just Like a Woman" is well done. If ever there was a woman with the voice to cover a Dylan song, it is Stevie. The take-it or leave-it attitude and open-road feeling of "Kick It" is very satisfying. In fact the only sub-par song on the record is "Jane," her tribute to anthropologist Jane Goodall. Something about the line "the forgotten chimpanzee" makes me cringe, even if the song was well-intended (sorry, Stevie). Most surprisingly, the songs are contemporary for mid 90s popular music, along the lines of Natalie Merchant. Admittedly, her voice was *not* in the best of conditions, but I do love the gravely, lived-in sound, and where she is unable to hold the verse on her own, her long-time back-up singers Sharon Celani, Lori Nicks, and Sara Fleetwood, more than adequately support her vocals.

In retrospect, it almost appears that the reviewers dismissed Street Angel on account of the personal troubles in Stevie's life – she was at the time, overweight and fighting a drug addiction. Her voice was not in the best condition. They seemed to have thrown the record out with the woman, as it were. Street Angel showcases a calmer Stevie and a thoughtful songwriter with excellent rhythm (as always) and exceptional musicality.

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