Old drummers never die -- they just keep beating their own drums.
While Mick Fleetwood and Nick Mason was relatively young in years, they are both in the ways of the rock world. Their groups, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd, respectively, struggled through the '60s before being unexpectedly canonized by the masses in the '70s. They have known many of the trials and rewards that rock has to offer and, at various times, both have blazed trails -- and compromised.
Thus, it is reassuring to learn that, on the basis of their newly released solo records, Fleetwood and Mason remain the drummers they were before fame, fortune and jet-set lag set in. On these records, they have abandoned (in the case of some songs, only tentatively) the stale and lucrative formulas of their parent groups and reestablished their own styles.
Mick Fleetwood went to Ghana to soak up the sounds and atmosphere for "The Visitor" (RCA AFL1-4080). On "Fictitious Sports" (Columbia FC 37307), Nick Mason stays way out in deep musical space, where he resides when not caught up in the cosmic tomfoolery of his fellow Floyds.
"The Visitor" provides hints about where Mick Fleetwood's music might have gone if he hadn't teamed up with the California gold-dust twins, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. This time out, he has chosen a far more adept and musically febrile cast of supporting musicians -- Peter Greenbaum (nee Green), the original Fleetwood Mac guitarist, George Harrison and a strong roster of African percussionists and singers. The result is a work that blends the blues-based sound of the '60s Fleetwood Mac with the dense rhythms and cool harmonies of African folk and popular music.
"Rattlesnake Shake" is a low-down bluesy basher with Greenbaum's trademark guitar solos and vocals, while the classic "Not Fade Away" is given an almost primal interpretation with the addition of Lord Tiki and Adio Group on hand drums and percussion. The title song is fast-paced affair with the chants of the Ghana Folkloric Group contrasted with and complemented by Mike Moran's growing synthesizer.
Only on "You Weren't in Love" and Buckingham's "Walk a Thin Line" does the laid-back (and laid-out) sound of the current Fleetwood Mac return. George Harrison saves "Thin Line" with his delicate slide guitar, and "Love" is enlivened by the vocals of the Accra Roman Catholic Choir.
Nick Mason's "Fictitious Sports" is a collection of unreal musical acrobatics and steeplechases played by a very real collection of contemporary avantgarde masters from both sides of the Atlantic. The songs are provided by the always enigmatic and occasionally witty Carla Bley, with Mason acting as drummer, co-producer and musical master of cermonies.
The record is topsy-turvy slugfest that ranges from the manic funkiness of "I Was Wrong" to the dramatic broodings of "I'm a Mineralist" and the Pink Floyd-ish noodlings of "Hot River" (complete with a David Gilmour-like guitar solo provided by Chris Spedding).
"Fictitious Sports" has a distinctly quirky ambience that obliquely recalls the music of Floyd progenitor Syd Barrett. In fact, many of Mason's collaborations over the years outside the group have dealth with somewhat eccentric musical themes and structures. This record represents the most coherent and imaginative of these efforts.
Throughtout, Mason (as does Fleetwood on "The Visitor") maintains a low instrumental profile without sacrificing artistic control. Neither of these drummers is a virtuoso, yet each has a distinctive percussive presence and a clearly defined sense of musical direction. Because of this, both records are mercifully devoid of the superstar histrionics that usually accompany solo records. And for that, Mason and Fleetwood deserve a thunderous drum roll.