Critic's picks: Paul McCartney, 'Kisses on the Bottom,' and Ringo Starr, 'Ringo 2012'

Contributing Music WriterFebruary 6, 2012 

As the two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have a considerable pop legacy to uphold. Make that an impossible legacy.

The solo careers of both have been spotty at best and have increasingly relied on nostalgic charm to get heard. Sure, McCartney still sells out stadiums on the power of his Fab Four legacy (along with a few nods to the years with Wings). Ringo, ever the hapless envoy, seems content with late-night TV appearances alongside Craig Ferguson and occasional summer tours with ensembles ("All Starr Bands") made up of artists whose pop worth is measured strictly by their pasts.

McCartney's Kisses on the Bottom is a light, jazz-pop-leaning throwback to tunes from the singer's youth. As such it is the sort of songbook project that gave new leases to the careers of acts such as Rod Stewart and Linda Ronstadt. It purposely avoids rock 'n' roll in favor of works by Fats Waller (the album's title comes from the album's lead track, Waller's I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter), Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and the like, with a few guest turns by Diana Krall and Stevie Wonder.

The very purposeful sentimentality of Kisses on the Bottom boils down to three songs: a impressively moody original called My Valentine, a slow-mo blues reading of Get Yourself Another Fool where the hushed creases of McCartney's singing take on an appealing twilight glow, and an elegantly orchestral version of Bye Bye Blackbird that can't help but serve as an aged sequel to The Beatles' revered Blackbird.

Kisses on the Bottom sports two McCartney originals within its cover-song repertoire. The ratio is inverted on Starr's Ringo 2012, a self-produced record of efficient and clinical originals peppered by inviting covers of Buddy Holly's Think It Over and the pop/skiffle staple Rock Island Line. There is not a ballad in the bunch. Instead, Starr pushes exuberance with high-profile pals such as Joe Walsh, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Van Dyke Parks, Edgar Winter and Dave Stewart. And it all works surprisingly well, even though Ringo 2012 clocks in at less than 30 minutes.

Even more than McCartney, Starr relies on good cheer to carry the day. And in most cases that's enough, providing production and material choices don't push his luck. Here, everything is streamlined, from the lean quartet appeal of Step Lightly; to the Parks-heavy Samba, which, oddly enough, brings to mind the late '70s music of George Harrison; to the surf-style glee of Think It Over, which boasts a vocal showing where one can almost picture Ringo grinning from ear to ear.

Neither album is a masterwork. But they sufficiently uphold the good nature that got Beatlemania rolling in the first place. At 69 and 71 respectively, McCartney and Starr still pour on the charm. What nice boys.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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