CK Retro Review: Run Devil Run by Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney’s second solo foray into rock and roll and rhythm and blues history outdid the first, which was no small feat. Unlike CHOBA B CCCP, which had a tossed-off quality that sometimes helped and sometimes hindered the material, 1999’s Run Devil Run, consisting primarily of cover songs of mid-20th century classics and obscurities, benefits from what seems like a little bit more forethought. McCartney also found a wonderful ad hoc band for the project, featuring crackerjack guitarists David Gilmour and Mick Green. His three original songs aren’t anything too memorable, but his first album following the death of wife Linda found him on firm, familiar musical footing that must have been reassuring to him at such a difficult time.

TWO STARS

15. “Try Not To Cry”- The staccato, herky-jerky feel of this McCartney original feels beamed in from a different era than the classic covers, breaking up the spell a bit. Plus it’s a rare McCartney song that is lacking in the melody department.

14. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”- Even though Chris Hall adds an excellent accordion part, zydeco is the one sub-genre represented on this collection where McCartney doesn’t quite feel at home.

13. “What It Is”- The band makes a pretty good ruckus on this one, but it feels a bit rushed in terms of the execution and a bit blah songwriting-wise.

THREE STARS

12. “Shake A Hand”- McCartney gets a chance to tear up his larynx here. Maybe he gets a little silly with it here and there, but it slides by.

11. “Party”- One more wild rocker for the road sends the album out on a note of raucous fun. The prolonged ending is a nice touch.

10. “Run Devil Run” – The best of the three McCartney originals holds its own with the classics surrounding it. Frenetic but held together by the chemistry of the band and Paul’s powerhouse vocal.

9. “Blue Jean Bop”- Great way to start the album, with this modest little Gene Vincent number that gives Paul a workout on bass and lets Gilmour and Green cut loose on electric guitar.

8. “She Said Yeah”- The Beatles did pretty well with Larry Williams covers, so it makes sense that McCartney would look to one of his classics once again. The band revs this one up and provides some serious thunder, while Paul’s vocals are suitably wild and woolly.

7. “I Got Stung”- A great, relatively obscure barnburner on which the band to pack a serious wallop. That they do this while still sounding loose, not shambolic, is a testament to the unit assembled by McCartney for this project.

FOUR STARS

6. “Movie Magg”- McCartney slides into this Carl Perkins rambler like it was written for him. It would have been easy to do “Blue Suede Shoes” or something like that. He does more honor to the original artists by digging deeper into their catalogs, showing just how intriguing some of their lesser-known songs were. A wonderfully restrained and charming performance from Macca on this one.

5. “All Shook Up”- Here the band takes a well-known chestnut and imbues it with enough personality that it becomes their own. Each instrumentalist is fired up individually, but they also all come together cohesively for some unstoppable forward thrust. Explosive in a way that even Elvis’ original couldn’t claim to be.

4.”Coquette”- Of all the artists that McCartney has either covered or honored with homages over the years, Fats Domino is probably the one that, for whatever reason, has been the tightest fit. As Pete Wingfield knocks out the triplets, Paul struts through a standout vocal on this typically charismatic Fats’ composition. The lyrics don’t work unless the singer emanates confidence that the titular girl is going to realize her folly and come crawling back, and McCartney is on top of that all the way.

3. “Honey Hush”- What really stands out time and again on the uptempo numbers is how the originals are beefed up with modern rock heft while the original, classic feel is maintained. You can hear that balancing act pulled off most memorably on this rip-snorter. McCartney and producer Chris Thomas deserve credit for the arrangements they concocted on this and the other fast ones. Why would anyone want to hush up this glorious yakety-yak?

FIVE STARS

2. “No Other Baby”- This brooding slow-builder is one of the more obscure songs that Paul took on for this project, which works in its favor. Without the preconceived notions from the listener about what it should sound like, McCartney can turn it into a smoky, brooding slow-builder, the one cover here that you could say sounds “modernized,” and effectively so. He builds the tension expertly until finally uncorking with more emotive vocals as the song progresses.

1. “Lonesome Town”- Paul’s best decision on this classic ballad made famous by Rick Nelson was to sing it in a high register throughout. Whereas Nelson’s version is brilliant for all that it holds back, Macca’s take succeeds in a different way, spilling everything on the table. (Plus the original didn’t have a top-notch David Gilmour guitar solo in its favor.) I’m not one to jump to conclusions and say that he was thinking about Linda while he sang so emotionally here, but it’s certainly tempting to connect those dots. In any case, it’s a wonderful combination of songwriting perfection and interpretive feeling. And all of us who’ve ever been denizens of that figurative location can relate and wallow right along with him.

(E-mail me at jimbeviglia@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available now. Order at the link below or at your favorite online bookseller.)

 

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CK Retro Review: Tug Of War by Paul McCartney

The show must go on, as they say, and Paul McCartney rose to the occasion on his first album following the death of John Lennon with one of his finest efforts in years. 1982’s Tug Of War reunites him with George Martin, who brings his gilded touch to the album, especially the ballads, which are uniformly fine and occasionally brilliant. The mid-tempo numbers glide about elegantly, while the harder stuff is feisty and fun. The first side outdoes the second side by a pretty good margin, but overall Paul was back on firm, crowd-pleasing footing with this one.

TWO STARS

12. “Dress Me As A Robber”- Way too busy, this Latin/disco number doesn’t ever settle on an identity.

11. “Be What You See (Link)”- Dreamy interstitial that’s gone almost as soon as it arrives.

10. “Get It”- McCartney’s chance to work with idol with Carl Perkins is far from objectionable. But there’s not much to it that will make it stick in your memory banks, other than Carl’s laughter at the end of the track.

THREE STARS

9. “The Pound Is Sinking”- It gets a little more twee than some of Macca’s biggest critics would like, but the bounciness of this rundown on the world’s currency keeps it in the black. Good enough to be somebody’s favorite on the album, for sure.

8. “Ebony And Ivory”- Hey, we’re not arguing that the views on race relations are anything too profound. But the melody is as comfy as old slippers, and the funky coda where McCartney and Stevie Wonder go to town with some vocal improvisations is worth the price of admission.

7. “Somebody Who Cares”- The way the bluesy, minor-key verses open up into the surging chorus is the evidence of an old pro at work. This one doesn’t do too much but what it does it does well. Pleasant on the ears, for sure, if not particularly challenging.

6. “Ballroom Dancing”- It’s kind of out of place on the album, but I guess it would be out of place on any rock album (except maybe the White Album, where stuff like this was all part of the crazy tapestry.) McCartney’s ability to pull off this antiquated material always amazes me; even when you don’t think it’s what you want to hear, he convinces you otherwise.

5. “What’s That You’re Doing”- Wonder revives some of his mid-70’s magic with this relentless funk workout, letting Paul tag along for the ride. It doesn’t go very far from its initial groove, which carries it a long way, although maybe not quite six-plus minutes down the road. Still, the two superstars fit together seamlessly on a song that easily could have been a hit had they edited it down and released it as a single. But “Ebony And Ivory” sold about a quadrillion copies, so who am I to quibble?

FOUR STARS

4. “Take It Away”- If there’s a fault to be found with this song, it’s that it very much sounds like it could have been on a late-70’s Wings album, not quite in synch the early 80’s times. Still, McCartney is relaxed and smooth throughout, with the lyrics tripping off his tongue effortlessly and the charging chorus, with “Savoy Truffle” horns and Ringo Starr and Steve Gadd pushing the beat recklessly onward, is grabby. Paul’s bass work counters the light-footed melody nicely. Everything in its right place.

3. “Tug Of War”- McCartney keeps the lyrics vague enough that they might refer to his relationship with Lennon or to actual armed combat. Or maybe both. It nicely captures the senselessness of combat, much like Floyd’s “Us And Them” in that regard. The inherent sadness in the song comes from the unspoken fear that the “time to come” and “another world” promised might not actually arrive. In addition, it smoothly modulates between the acoustic, dreamy opening section and the urgent, electric second half. An excellent starter, for sure.

FIVE STARS

2. “Wanderlust”- I know that Paul has certain crowd-pleasers that have to go into every concert, but I couldn’t believe when I read that he has never played this live. Ringo adds his inimitable sense of touch on the ballads here, the horns are suitably buoyant, and McCartney sings the stuffing out it. When all of those countermelodies start to crash into one another in the final moments, prepare for the chills you’re bound to receive. As moving a defense of restlessness as you’re ever going to hear; the Captain, representing the staid world that refuses to take chances, gets his head handed to him in this musical argument.

1. “Here Today”- Imagine the pressure McCartney must have felt to make some sort of epic statement on his relationship with Lennon. That he had the foresight to pull back and simplify things down to their essence is beyond admirable; it was a stroke of genius. The song sidesteps the sappiness that easily could have enveloped it while still delivering raw emotion, and Martin does one of his stirring without being showy arrangements in the fashion of “Yesterday.” Isn’t that what friendship is, the idea that someone gets inside the song that we sing in a way that mere acquaintances can’t possibly achieve? Hurting as we all were, McCartney’s song was as much what we needed to hear as it was what he needed to say.

(E-mail me at jimbeviglia@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” band, check out my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, in the link below. It’s due out in March.)

 

 


CK Retro Review: 12 X 5 by The Rolling Stones

Incremental improvements were to be expected considering the cramped schedule between albums for the Rolling Stones at the start of their career. 1964’s 12 X 5 makes somewhat of a sideways move as the brash exuberance of the opening album morphs into a steadier, more self-assured tone on the follow-up. Wider variety, better use of vocal harmonies, and marginally improved songwriting efforts from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards combine to make 12 X 5 a success if not quite a revelation. Here is a song-by-song review:

TWO STARS

12. “Empty Heart”- Since this is a Nanker Phelge composition, it’s a good guess that this was a jam loosely masquerading as a song. Overly busy instrumentally and half-baked lyrically, it’s a time-waster.

11. “2120 Michigan Avenue”- Other than the fact that it gives Bill Wyman a rare chance to shine, there’s not much to say about this ambling instrumental.

10. “Under The Boardwalk”- This one is not in the group’s wheelhouse. The rhythm clunks where it should slink, and Jagger seems at a loss with what to do with the lines about hot dogs and fries. And the less said about his awkward falsetto, the better. Stick with the original.

9. “Susie Q”- A bit too manic and sporting a weird kind of go-go beat, here is another cover of an iconic tune that gets away from them a bit.

THREE STARS

8. “Grown Up All Wrong”- The boys kind of forgot about writing a melody here, but there’s enough attitude in the vocals and playing to barely put this one across.

7. “Around And Around”- Jagger doesn’t sound as enthused here as he would once the band started writing their own Chuck Berry homages rather than just covering him. (The ill-fitting reverb in which he’s drenched doesn’t help.) All quibbles are wiped away, however, in the instrumental break once Ian Stewart starts boogeying and Richards takes off on his solo while the rhythm section locks in.

6. “Confessin’ The Blues”- A good chunk of the album was recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago, so it was only natural that the band should take on a slow, Second City-style blues. The reverb on the vocals is again a bit distracting, but the groove, deliberate and potent, more than compensates.

5. “Congratulations”- Listen to how Richards acoustic and Brian Jones’ electric find space without seeming to muscle each other out. It’s that guitar-weaving Keith always mentions and it, along with Watts’ timpani, lifts this relatively pedestrian lament higher than it has a right to be.

4. “Good Times, Bad Times”- Jagger and Richards were quickly learning the less-is-more approach to songwriting, as evidenced by this Robert Johnson nod which suggests a lot more than it comes right out and says. Why would it need to articulate, when the interplay between Richards’ acoustic, Charlie Watts bass pedal, Jones’ harmonica, and Jagger’s laid-back yet wounded vocal says it all?

FOUR STARS

3. “If You Need Me”- Messing with a Wilson Pickett tune could have been a disaster, but the band’s genuine affinity for the music shines through on this cover. Plus, knowing what a monumental voice they were taking on here, Jagger and Richards team up to get the job done, providing heartfelt harmonies.

2. “Time Is On My Side”- If the Stones could be accused early on of too closely aping the original versions of blues and R&B songs, they got around it here by taking a song associated with a woman (Irma Thomas) and giving it their own stamp. Little things stand out here, like Watts inventiveness drumming on a slow number and the early vocal chemistry between Jagger and Richards as they form a harmony more profound than the sum of its parts. Jagger lets loose his outsized personality on this song for one of the first times on record, which might be a reason why it connected with audiences like it did.

FIVE STARS

1.”It’s All Over Now”- Taking a herky-jerky R&B number and giving it a chunky, Carl Perkins-style guitar groove, the Stones practically re-write this song by The Valentinos from the same year without changing a chord or a word. The attitude espoused by the song, that of the narrator turning the tables on the wayward woman rather than sulking about it, would eventually be winningly be copped by the band on their originals. It also features one of Richards’ best ever solos and a chorus brutally simple and unforgettable. Probably the high-water mark of their first year or recording.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My book on the Stones’ 100 finest songs arrives in November’ pre-order it with the link below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-The-Rolling-Stones/dp/1442254467