There are many reasons to celebrate the release of the new album by Ringo Starr, legendary drummer from the Beatles, songwriter, singer, entertainer and purveyor of all things related to peace, love and joy. The first reason is simply that his new record - called simply What's My Name - is a lot of fun to listen to, one of the hallmarks of the best Ringo records.
Going back to his eponymously titled third and arguably finest album from 1973, Ringo, I suspect the man realized that he had at his fingertips some of the best musicians on the planet so he brought them in to help elevate his offering into a special stratosphere (setting the stage for many of his subsequent recordings). What's My Name continues that pattern with a who's who of superstars, many of whom contribute songs as well as performances including: Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Dave Stewart, Benmont Tench, Steve Lukather, Nathan East, Colin Hay and many more
An emotional centerpiece of What's My Name is Ringo's cover of John Lennon's heartfelt ode to love, "Grow Old With Me" which includes performances by Paul McCartney. Not quite a formal Beatle reunion by any stretch of the imagination, the recording does include a sweet "Easter Egg"- like reference to George Harrison. From the official press release for the album we learn directly from Ringo: ".... the strings that Jack (Douglas) arranged for this track, if you really listen, they do one line from "Here Comes The Sun." So in a way, it's the four of us."
Before I go back into some other songs that I really like on the album I have to point out that I have come to like the sound on this new Ringo album. Much has been made of the fact that it was recorded at his home studio, sort of positioning it is some sort of LoFi effort, but that is not the case at all. What's My Name sounds really quite good and captures that loose-knit full band effort -- and I mean that in the best possible way -- even if there were inevitable overdubs and such. These are all musicians who know one another and are comfortable doing what they do together.
What's My Name also sounds like what a 21st-century Ringo record should probably sound like, with a celebratory party-like modern indie rock flavor. This isn't Abbey Road kids, but it is a fun romp to enjoy, especially in the car where I have listen to this a bunch off of a CD-quality advance review download (44.1 kHz, 16-bit). I'm supposed to be getting a copy of the vinyl version of the album when it becomes available so I will try to update the review once I get that in hand. You can order the CD and standard black vinyl of at Amazon (link in the album title here) but if you want the limited edition blue vinyl you'll have to order that from Ringo's site (click here).
On What's My Name, Ringo is unafraid to take some chances and have fun with modern technology. Oddly enough the decision to treat his voice with the thoroughly overused "autotune" technology is something of a stroke of brilliance on one song. Given this tune -- which John Lennon sang on an early Beatles record, originally written by Motown legend Berry Gordy -- the natural phrasing of the choruses perfectly play into the shape-shifting automation of the studio effect (first used to great effect by Cher in her mega hit "Believe").
The result is a playful new twist on a rock 'n' roll classic: "Money (That's What I Want)." And yes I'm sure the irony is not lost on Ringo singing this song 60 years on from when it was originally written and performed, money is probably the last thing he worries about these days... That said, on the off chance that this new version of the song ends up on commercial radio and viral Spotify playlists introducing a new generation on to the music, well then that is ultimately a good thing...
Of Ringo's own compositions on the album, they are fun, classic-rock-ready tunes I could easily hear on the radio. "Magic" was co-written with Steve Lukather, alumnus of Ringo's own All-Starr Band tours and of course Toto. "Gotta Get Up To Get Down," co-written with Joe Walsh (James Gang, Eagles) works off a funky hard rock groove with some characteristically goof-ball vocal cameos by Walsh himself as well as his signature guitar sounds.
In the hands of most anyone else, pulling off the uber-positivity of a song like "Thank God For Music" would inevitably fail into the saccharine sea but some how the tune is perfectly suited for Ringo's humble vocal delivery. I mean, who else could deliver a lyric like: "7, 8, 33, 45... Soundtrack of forever..."? Ringo does it effortlessly and it works.
I think John Lennon would have approved of "Send Love, Spread Peace" which could have fit on an alternate universe version of Double Fantasy. And the song"Whats My Name," written by Men At Work and All-Starr Band alumnus Colin Hay, is custom made for the man, playing off a line he frequently uses at his concerts to engage his audiences. From the official press release I'll let Ringo's own words about the title track wrap up this review as it sums it all up nicely.
"Colin came over and played it for me, and I LOVED it. I loved the verses. I loved the sentiment. In all honesty, there's not a lot of people who could get away with asking, "What's my name?" in a song. If you've been to the show, you already know the title. I'm blessed that most things coming my way are peace and love. There are still always trials and tribulations. But I just feel in life, the sun shines this way. I'm blessed. I always have the same talk - an audience can be tortured. We give them everything we've got. We give each other everything we've got. And sometimes it's not enough. But most nights it's everything. I'll play the best I can for you. And you play the best you can for me. That's all I can ask."
Thank you, Ringo.
Peace & Love forever.