Albums of the week | New records from Paul McCartney, Joey Ramone, St. Etienne, Hilary Hahn
Paul & Linda McCartney RAM [Special Edition]
RAM is the only Macca album to give Linda co-billing. It is also his most charming. I don’t think this is coincidence. True to the ovine wrangling on the record sleeve, RAM is the sound of a rich musician with innate melodic genius mucking about on a farm. His eponymous solo album was as well, but this sophomore effort fleshed out the off-the-cuff pop doodles with rustic psychedelia, much like “Ram On” itself builds from a sparse ukulele lilt into a tub-thumping parade of horns, whistles and harmonies. In this remastered edition, the details make the tracks much richer than you might remember. The wonderful non-album single “Another Day” remains the ultimate McCartney song. Chirpy and melancholy, the tune defines a young woman by her raincoat and her tea. Paul is enamored with the most mundane aspects of life. I think he means for it to sound melancholy, but it ends up wistful. He doesn’t pity these village people. He might envy them.
But back to Linda. The big knock on Paul has always been the silly nonsense and romantic platitudes in his lyrics. His tunes are comfortable and childish. That goes for RAM as well, but here these attributes are assets. The difference is that from this point onward (or from Wild Life onward, and not counting the fun outlier McCartney II), Paul would write to please his vast fanbase, the radio audience in general. On RAM, Paul is ignoring the market. He’s just trying to tickle his family.
Various artists Eccentric Soul: A Red Black Green Production
Recordings made by outcasts and underdogs in makeshift studios is nothing new for the Numero Group. Yes, D.C. producer and engineer Robert Jose Williams recorded the bands on this collection in a basement in Silver Springs. But RBG Productions is different story. By day, Williams worked levers and knobs for major label acts in a posh studio. This stuff was done for no label in mind, but the quality is no less. This batch of lovers’ funk is one of Numero’s richest and most consistent. The tracks are dripping with strings, wah-wah and backup singers. The Promise’s “I’m Not Ready for Love,” previously released on the label’s Home Schooled comp, is primo stuff. They could put it on every one of these things and I wouldn’t mind.
Hilary Hahn & Hauschka Silfra
Bravo to the violin star for stepping out of her comfort zone of sheet music and fiddling about with German improviser Hauschka. The two holed up in Iceland together to whip out this album, some of it in one take. He plays with his piano’s guts as much as its keys. He plucks and plonks and drops bouncing balls on the taut strings. She hovers above his skittering, clockwork-like noises like clouds. What is it with Iceland? Like Björk and Sigur Rós, this music is both miniature and overwhelming. That’s nature in a nutshell, right?
St. Etienne Words and Music by St. Etienne
The album cover map is porn for cartophilic pop geeks. The parks, streets and sites of St. Etienne’s hometown have been replaced with the Penny Lanes and Heartbreak Hotels of pop history. It’s a clever reminder of how pop forms the fabric of our memories and imagination. Some of us. I could stare at it for hours. Unfortunately, the concept album slipped inside the sleeve can not match its brilliance. The middle-aged trio look back at their life through their record collection. It’s quaint, but like all St. Etienne, too studied and clinical in its homages—something between Pet Shop Boys and a cocktail lounge act. Sarah Cracknell’s breathy singing melts over the polished disco. Still, it’s the group’s catchiest batch of songs in I don’t know how long. Ever? This is going-out music for adults too exhausted to go out anymore. I hope Madonna hears it.
Dave Dub The Treatment
Dub lives up to his name. The beats on this Stones Throw platter are built strictly from wax; this record has a low end like a mud bath. You can smell the vinyl. Thick and sparse, the tracks take on an eerie vibe, while Dave wades through the crackling muck, lonely and touch deranged. His cadences come straight out of ’88. The “Space Nigga” from “Planet Rhyme” is floating in the cosmos, just getting the transmissions that left the Bronx three decades ago. “The underground is dead, I keep it in my head,” he raps. Folks into Doom and Kool Keith need this.
Joey Ramone “…ya know?”
Considering its cobbled-together origin and laundry list of contributors, this posthumous album is surprisingly cohesive. Unfortunately, its cohesive like a late ’80s Ramones record, say, Brain Drain or Halfway to Sanity, not the prime stuff. But was anyone expecting that? But those harder, shinier records had their merits, and "…ya know?" delivers a handful of punk-pop nuggets: “There’s Got to Be More to Life Than This,” “I Couldn’t Sleep,” “Rock & Roll Is the Answer,” “What Did I Do To Deserve You?” The king Ramone’s voice hiccups and croons as well as it ever did. In the early Ramones tunes he was always singing, I don’t wanna do this, I don’t wanna do that. In his later years, even near death, he grew far more upbeat. Come to think of it, there’s a great ten-song album in these fifteen tracks. They need only have taken a cue from Joey’s jeans: Keep it tattered and lose 40 percent of the material.