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Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham finds a new artistic voice

By Garrett Wheeler

SOMETIMES, presenting a small detail during the course of an interview can have a profound effect on the overall direction of the dialogue. So, after five minutes of phone conversation, I let Lindsey Buckingham know that I'm 23 years old. My goal is to put things in context; after all, this a man best known for engineering some of Fleetwood Mac's greatest hits, and in doing so, helping to write the soundtrack that so famously defines the generation belonging not to me but to my parents.

Buckingham, a Palo Alto native (yes, Stevie Nicks is, too) with a wife and three children, seems to understand my perspective, an outlook either obscured or clarified by youth, depending on which side of the age-barrier you decide to poll. In fact, his response to my declaration is amazingly void of any age-grown bias, especially considering the artistic accomplishments achieved by his flower-powered peers.

"A lot of young listeners are able to appreciate substance that is well crafted," says Buckingham, "and even though it might be a bit more difficult to find music that meets that criteria in today's climate, the boundaries that used to exist have faded. When I was growing up, there was rock music, and there was our parents' music, and they were rarely the same. That distinction has muddied."

The muddied waters of popular music is a metaphor that may help explain why Buckingham, 34 years after originally joining Mick Fleetwood's band, has finally reconnected with the youth.

His fifth solo album, the recently released Gift of Screws, is evidence of Buckingham's temporal and artistic meld, with influences ranging from the pop-oriented rock of his Buckingham-Nicks days to the contemporary eccentricity found in today's post-psychedelic genres. Asked what modern rock bands he's fond of, Buckingham says he likes "some of the indie stuff," along with brooding alt-rock bands like Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie. "I also really like Elliot Smith," says Buckingham. "He's like a John Lennon on downers."

Listening to Gift of Screws, it's easy to draw parallels between Smith's sparse melancholy and some of Buckingham's despondent ballads. It's also easy to find similarities between the trademark pop-sensibility of Fleetwood Mac and Buckingham's latest endeavor. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie lend their drum and bass parts to several songs on the LP, a collaboration Buckingham describes as "great synergy." But even with the help of a few old friends, Gift of Screws is no ticket to ride on the Fleetwood Mac train of the past.

"[Gift of Screws] kind of took on a life of its own," explains Buckingham. "After I did Under the Skin—a mostly acoustic album with no drums, bass or lead guitars—in 2006, the effectiveness of that sound made me think I should take it a notch further. I brought in my road band, which naturally took the album in a more rock & roll direction, and from there, well, it's whatever I ended up with."

Sprawling, edgy and cool, Gift of Screws possesses not only a new melodic interface for Buckingham's songwriting, it also gives him a chance to reflect on his current life occupation: family. "It's like a phase two for me," Buckingham says. "I've got family members participating in songwriting, or giving me ideas. It kind of refutes the idea that children are the death of an artist. It's a new path for me, and it's the best creative time I've ever had."