Typically, when an artist digs into the “vault” for previously unreleased tracks, the result is a set of “B-sides” intended for only the most devoted of fans to enjoy. (After all, there’s a reason they were vaulted.) But when Stevie Nicks does it, apparently, it’s gold. More specifically, the aptly titled 24 Karat Gold: Songs From the Vault, a brilliant late-career move that reminds us of the timeless impact the Fleetwood Mac singer has had, and continues to have, on the rock genre.
To be clear, the songs on 24 Karat Gold aren’t necessarily a set of rejects from earlier studio sessions; the “vault” is more along the lines of Stevie Nicks’ personal vault, songs from her personal files between 1969 and 1995, most written in the mid-70s during the peak of the Fleetwood Mac days, that for one reason or another never made it to record. Nicks describes the vibe in a statement on her website: “Each song is a love story…They represent my life, the secrets, the broken hearts. These songs are the memories – the 24 karat gold rings in the blue box.” In short, these are anything but B-sides: they’re great songs that have been aging like fine wine in the vault while other things were happening, waiting for their own time to be unveiled.
It would seem fate itself has a hand in determining when the right time is. It’s possible that if Nicks had had her way, most of these songs might never have seen the light of day. As it is, many fans will recognize them because they have been circulating on the Internet for some time. When Nicks discovered original bootlegs of the tracks on YouTube (“taken from my house or picked up or loaned out or whatever,” as she told Rolling Stone),she decided to release the tracks on her own terms.
In an added stroke of brilliance, Nicks opted not to use the original recorded demos of these songs, but instead decided to re-record them. Knowing she was pressed for time due to an upcoming Fleetwood Mac tour, she and producer Dave Stewart went to Nashville and recorded the tracks in three weeks, performing them live in the studio with session players. As an homage to the tracks themselves, Stewart kept the production simple, recording and producing them near to the style in which they would have been recorded back when they were written. Nicks’ unmistakable raspy voice is stellar over these tracks, her stream-of-consciousness lyricism and song structures just as fresh now as they were in the so-called heyday. The result is a high-quality, solid collection of rock songs that sound timeless rather than dated, reaffirming that Nicks is just as relevant to rock culture here in the twenty-teens as she was during the peak of Fleetwood Mac.
As to the tunes themselves, there’s a nice balance of diversity on the track list, ranging from all-out rock on “I Don’t Care” to the piano ballad “Lady” to the “Dreams”-like steady midtempo of “The Dealer.” Additional high moments include the blues-rocker “Hard Advice,” the cautionary tale of “Mabel Normand” (about a silent-film star whose cocaine addiction Nicks particularly relates to), and “Blue Water,” which tips its hat to Nashville with guest BGVs by Lady Antebellum. She even covers her own song “Carousel,” which Vanessa Carlton recorded in 2011.
And so, while other artists release their “B-side” records as “remember-whens” or time-fillers between albums, Stevie Nicks has mined her own vault for 24 Karat Gold and released an album that truly lives up to its name. As Nicks pointed out herself in a commentary on YouTube, “I don’t care if it’s a hit record—I want to make a great record.” In the process, she exceeded that goal: 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault is easily her best release in years.