Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels
Trouble in Shangri-La contains enough classic Stevie Nicks stylings to please long-time fans while being fresh enough to distinguish it from its predecessors. The title track opens the CD with the layered vocals Nicks is known for and evocative lyrics that create an image as clearly as a painter. Nicks often says that she likes to tell stories and create little worlds with her songs. Shangri-La does exactly that, ranging from melancholy "Candlebright" and "I Miss You" to the mystical "Planets of the Universe."
Heartbreak is evident in two songs, but Nicks doesn’t repeat herself. "Too Far From Texas," her duet with Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, has a touch of country twang and lyrics that make it plain the woman in the song has cried and suffered for her love. "Fall From Grace," featuring backup vocals by Sheryl Crow, by contrast, is hard rockin’ and has the hindsight of someone who should of known better but realizes that even if given a second chance, she still wouldn’t have done anything different.
Shangri-La only has two flaws, one of them hidden in a pleasant surprise. I’ve long been a fan of "Sorcerer" from the Streets of Fire soundtrack and was amazed to learn that not only was it on this disc, but that Nicks wrote — but didn’t sing — the song for the film (actually, the song was originally written several years earlier for the album Fleetwood Mac but was bumped in favor of "Rhiannon"). The soundtrack version was haunting and clearly evocative of Nicks, but I never noticed the songwriter credits. So I was disappointed to find Nicks’ vocals to be raspy rather than smoothly enchanting and her falsetto was very distracting. Still, the song still managed to weave a spell that had me swaying along with the rhythm despite those weaknesses.
The other problem is the much-hyped vocals by Macy Gray on "Bombay Sapphires" and Sarah McLachlan on "Love Is." Both songs are very good, especially "Bombay Sapphies," but I doubt anyone could tell McLachlan or Gray were on either track without checking the liner notes. That’s very surprising considering how distinctive Gray’s voice is. I didn’t expect either singer to dominate the vocals, but guest vocalists should be distinguishable from Nicks’ long-time backup singers Sharon Celani and Lori Nicks.
As usual, Shangri-La features the confessional and autobiographical lyrics we’ve come to expect from Nicks. Few other singers have been as amazingly forthright in describing the inspiration for such personal songs. "That Made Me Stronger" clearly quotes from the 1995 dinner Nicks had with friend Tom Petty in which he told her to write her own songs and not use others as a crutch. On the contrary, Nicks collaboration with Crow, who produced, played and/or sang on five of the tracks, seems to have provided a comfortable environment for Nicks to stretch musically without losing herself in the process. The blend of old and new produces a CD that makes it clear why Nicks has been a rock icon for more than 25 years with no end in sight.
Review © 2001 Beth Hannan Rimmels. Trouble in Shangri-La © 2001 Welsh Witch Music/Reprise Records. Art credits are as follows: Photography - Neil Preston, Norman Seeff; Art Direction and Design - Stephen Walker; the "S" in Stevie's name on the cover of the CD was drawn by Sarah McLachlan; Photo Illustration - Vena.