“[On Tusk, Stevie] turned in a clutch of her most powerful songs yet, with ‘Storms’, ‘Sara’ and ‘Beautiful Child’. Across all three, her voice resonated with emotion, following on the path she had started in Fleetwood Mac, but more confident now, and stronger. In the old days, she admits, she almost wrecked her untrained voice, trying to keep things going onstage every night. Now she knew precisely what she was doing, and how she would do it, and while she would, of course, lose some of the natural beauty of her natural tones, replacing it perhaps with a more studied approximation, the alternative would have been disastrous.”
From ‘Fleetwood Mac - Never Break the Chain’ by Amy Hanson, Goldmine magazine (November 1997)
I wonder what ‘natural voice’ Amy Hanson means?
Stevie’s Buckingham Nicks voice is very nasal, heavy vibrato, massive breath control. Kind of a Baez-style foghorn. Take, for example, the end of the ‘Sorceror’ demo. Her voice is huge there, and always makes me smile when I imagine that booming out into a deserted coffee factory in the middle of the night.
Her voice on the white FM album is shedding its folk/country blare and morphing into something altogether sweeter. There’s intimacy in the almost spoken quality of ‘Landslide’, and a lovely crooning quality to parts of the studio cut of ‘Rhiannon’ that makes it into the soft vamp of the legendary live renditions. But otherwise her live voice in 1975/76 was quite different: more reedy and, yes, at times raucous.
Rumours captured the Nicks voice that endures in the popular consciousness, and the one people mean when they claim she’s ‘lost it’. The flipping into her head voice in ‘Dreams’; the sinewy control and soaring sustain on ‘Gold Dust Woman’; the agility of her harmonies on ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ and ‘Second Hand News’. The vibrato is under control and she hits the highs without fear - despite how roughed up her voice was by the rigours of the road.
On Tusk, though, it’s not just her voice that’s been roughed up. Stevie herself, as a woman, as a human being, is almost on her knees during this album. And her voice is the voice of someone who knows her best bet for survival is to let this stuff bleed out of her, don’t fight the feelings, sit with it and let it pass.
The result is something extraordinary: a voice that gets stronger the more passive it is. Like when you’ve been trying to hurry home through pouring rain, but then realise you’re not gonna make it, and you’re soaked to the skin, can’t get any wetter, and suddenly - it doesn’t bother you any more. In fact, if you’ve been drenched and dried out again before, you can even find it darkly pleasurable.