Music News & Reviews

Paul McCartney’s boundless career, with and without The Beatles

Sir Paul McCartney, with his iconic Hofner violin bass.
Sir Paul McCartney, with his iconic Hofner violin bass.

Paul McCartney

8 p.m. July 10 at U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway in Cincinnati. $39.50-$253. 1-800-745-3000. Paulmccartney.com, Ticketmaster.com.

This late in an unfathomably extensive career, one is left to offer little insight that can be considered new when considering the music of Paul McCartney. Many try, including author Philip Norman in his recently published biography, Paul McCartney: The Life, which devotes considerable text to the vanguard pop-stylist’s solo career.

In a review of the book for The New York Times in May, Dwight Garner came to a conclusion many have drawn about the rock icon: that his solo adventures, regardless of how one perceives their obvious peaks and ravines, will forever be footnotes to the revolutionary pop music he created during the ’60s with The Beatles.

“It’s like reading a biography of Thor Heyerdahl’s life after Kon-Tiki or of Edmund Hillary’s after Everest,” Garner wrote. “Everything after the summit — that is, after the Beatles — can’t help but seem like an anticlimax.”

Yet the ageless Beatle, who turned 74 last month (a welcome affirmation — along with fellow Beatle Ringo Starr’s 76th birthday, Thursday — given the stunning number of deaths of rock giants so far in 2016), is the one giving his solo career new attention this summer. In June came the release of Pure McCartney, the fifth and newest official compendium of his post-Beatles music (excluding live albums) and by far the most comprehensive. Available in two- and four-disc editions, the set covers more than 45 years, including the lifespan of his popular 1970s band Wings.

Both editions begin and end with tunes from 1970’s McCartney, the homemade-sounding record that was essentially a homegrown antithesis of the Beatles’ epic pop vision. But the sentiments in both songs — Maybe I’m Amazed and Junk — suggest that McCartney’s artistic appeal was going to continue unabated without his former Beatle mates, producer George Martin or the rest of the fabled crew responsible for possibly the most influential pop music of any age.

What we hear in between, however, are the songs of a mere rock ’n’ roll mortal. Some are profoundly infectious, some border on Beatle-esque greatness and others are bits of sobering garbage — junk in the truest sense.

Despite — and, perhaps, because of — those extremes, Pure McCartney is a fascinating listen, especially the four-disc version. Presented in non-chronological order, the collection is a mix tape of sorts — an overview of favored hits (Band on the Run, Live and Let Die, Silly Love Songs), overlooked gems (Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, Let ’Em In, Jet) and, yes, a few clams (the awful 1979 disco-fied single Goodnight Tonight and, dare I say it, the retooled Michael Jackson duet Say, Say, Say).

But the real pleasures in Pure McCartney are the sleepers — the album tracks and forgotten singles that no one but devout fans will recall — that help illuminate the heights McCartney’s music would scale outside of the Beatles.

Many of those delightful relics stem from the Wings years, including 1973’s Big Barn Red (a pop delicacy from Red Rose Speedway, an album that begs to be reissued), 1977’s Mull of Kintyre (a lovely Celtic-inspired anthem that was a massive overseas hit but fell on deaf ears in this country), and 1979’s Arrow Through Me (a brassy, lightly animated single from the neglected swan-song album Back to the Egg).

But there are also numerous under-appreciated artifacts from his later solo years as well, including 1984’s No More Lonely Nights (with its killer David Gilmour guitar solo), 2005’s Too Much Rain (a piano rumination from McCartney’s best solo recording of the past two decades, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard) and the 2007 mandolin party piece Dance Tonight.

Of course, it will be songs from that other band McCartney was part of — that one from the ’60s — that will provide the star power and, ultimately, will sell the bulk of the tickets to Sunday’s performance. But keep an ear out for the other Sir Paul if you go. The treasures may have become more modest during the post-Beatle age, but when they shine — as they so often do on Pure McCartney — they help reinforce a rock ’n’ roll reputation that knows no bounds.

Return of the Fairfield Four

The roots of the celebrated gospel group The Fairfield Four date back nearly a century to its formation at Nashville’s Fairfield Baptist Church. But the past few decades, along with the help of brethren from the secular world, have brought the ensemble its widest fame.

After work with rock celebrities including John Fogerty (on the 1997 album Blue Moon Swamp), the Fairfields became one of the many troupes that made the T Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? an international Americana hit.

Of late, though, the a capella singing of the current group lineup — Levert Allison, Bobbye Sherrell, Larrice Byrd Sr. and Joe Thompson — has stirred up it own celebration. The group’s 2015 recording, Still Rockin’ My Soul, won a Grammy for best roots gospel album.

The Fairfield Four return to Lexington on July 14 for a performance at Willie’s Locally Known, 286 Southland Drive (9 p.m., $15). Call 859-281-1116 or go to Willieslocallyknown.com.

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

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