Ringo Starr is a musical legend. His role as a Beatle is enough to insure him a prime spot in the annals of popular music. However, in addition to being a member of one of the most influential bands of all time, Starr has also had a long, albeit underrated, solo career.
Starr’s new studio album ‘Y Not’ marks the first time that he has worked as a producer on one of his albums (with co-producer Bruce Sugar helping out). The results do not dissapoint.
Of course, the fact that Starr is assisted by a band that includes music veterans such as keyboardist Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and guitarist Joe Walsh (of The James Gang and The Eagles) doesn’t hurt matters much.
The list of famous friends and musicans appearing on the album doesn’t end there. On each of the 10 tracks, Starr shares co-writing credit with a different songwriter, including Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks and former Eurythmics member Dave Stewart. Several prominent musicians including Edgar Winter, Joss Stone and Paul McCartney make guest appearances on the album. As Starr put it in an interview with National Public Radio, ‘If you pass through L.A. and I knew you, you’re on the record.’
Despite all of the big names adorning ‘Y Not,’ Starr’s talents are always front and center. Throughout the album his drumming is resounding and uncluttered, and Starr’s unique singing voice lends character to each song.
‘Y Not’ opens with the sharp barbed rock of ‘Fill In the Blanks.’ Musically it is a spare number powered almost exclusively by drums, guitar and Starr’s singing. The result is a song that is reminiscent of the classic Chuck Berry style of rock and roll as well as something from the punk/new wave era.
‘Peace Dream’ is a musical tribute to John Lennon and his pleas for world peace. Of all of the tracks on ‘Y Not,’ it bears the closest resemblance to something the Fab Four would have created themselves. Appropriately mellow and fun, it seems to be the musical embodiment of the hopes and dreams of the ’60s.
Starr leaves such idealism behind on the well-executed autobiographical song ‘The Other Side of Liverpool.’ He paints a dark picture of the pre-Beatles era of his life, with lyrics such as, ‘The other side of Liverpool is cold and damp/The only way out of there, drums guitar and amp.’
But the song is not entirely bleak. Starr pays tribute to the people who helped him endure his childhood, singing over a musical backing that sounds like a brooding mix of reggae and rock.
While the modern funkiness of the song ‘Y Not’ doesn’t have much in common with the classic Beatles repertoire, fans will probably appreciate tabla player and chanter Tina Sugandh’s addition to the song, which gives it the feel of a lost track from ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’
The humorous side of Starr gets time to shine on the track ‘Who’s Your Daddy,’ an admirably goofy duet with singer Joss Stone. The song sports a classic ’50s feel instrumentally, with a vintage R&B vibe provided by Stone.
Perhaps the most obvious musical highlight on ‘Y Not’ is the lead single ‘Walk With You,’ a duet with McCartney.
An emotionally charged, string-laden ballad, the seasoned voices of the last remaining Beatles keep the song emotional without sounding saccharine, and it’s great to hear the two of them performing together again.
In the song ‘Time,’ Starr sings ‘Forget about yesterday, this is the best day of your life.’ However, the constant lyrical and musical allusions to the past in ‘Y Not’ are just as obvious as the forward thinking sounds and messages in the album.
All in all it seems like Starr has embraced the past, present and potential of the future to create a record that is as retro as it is modern. ‘Y Not’ pays tribute to those who have made Starr’s world a reality, without getting bogged down by the weightiness of memories, hopes and realities of history.
Perhaps most importantly, Starr has succeeded in making an album that is fun to listen to. In ‘Can’t Do It Wrong,’ Starr sings ‘It’s a song, and as long as I’m singing it, I can’t sing it wrong.’ As far as ‘Y Not’ goes, he is absolutely correct.
Berris is a member of the class of 2013.