What is it that endears the fourth Beatle to us all? Is it his lack of rock star pretension? His self-effacing demeanor? His sense of not taking life too seriously? Or just his ability to be, well, Ringo? Whatever the reason, the former Richard Starkey has for nearly four decades maintained a special spot in our hearts, and the wonderful Ringoesque qualities he possesses continue to be found in his music.
With his latest solo release Ringo Rama, Starr adheres to the blueprint he has been perfecting over the past decade: craft an album for his fans and himself, with enough pop hooks and guest artists to garner a radio friendly single. Essentially, it is Ringo and his chums jamming together and having fun. Including Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Willie Nelson, and Van Dyke Parks (among others) on the roster bodes well for listeners, as those who enjoy such a "stop by and play" game plan will not be disappointed.
Of the 13 included tracks, a fairly broad brushstroke is used to paint the musical canvas. The songs "Missouri Loves Company", "Write One for Me", and "Love First, Ask Questions Later" are grounded in Ringo's easy going pop sensibilities; "Eye to Eye," "Memphis in Your Mind," "I Think Therefore I Rock and Roll", and "Trippin' on My Own Tears" chug ahead in rollicking fashion; "Instant Amnesia" and "Elizabeth Reigns" incorporate big instrumentals and enough self indulgence to qualify as elaborate studio free-for-alls.
The CD is not without it's obligatory Beatles influenced tunes either. Ringo goes back to his roots with "Never without You" and "Imagine Me There", (with the former serving as the album's current single). Starr's songwriting and vocals are in fine form, suitably complimented by Clapton's solo work on both tracks.
Is every song perfect? Of course not. "What Love Wants to Be" is slow and aching, and inconsistent with the prevailing upbeat tone of the album. The syrupy "English Garden" is Ringo's postcard from home, bouncy and sweet, but not nearly as enjoyable as much of the other material.
What this CD lacks in musical sophistication, it makes up for in pure engineering value. Producer and collaborator Mark Hudson has tuned and tweaked Ringo Rama so that every instrumental track is clear and crisp, from the Clapton and Gilmour guitar parts to Starr's own stellar drumming. Even Ringo's backing band the Roundheads shine with their contributions. At the very least, sound quality is superb.
Fans will also be pleased to find a bonus DVD disc in the jewel case. Consisting of 40 minutes of interviews and recording session footage, this "extra" is an appropriate compliment to the album.
So, then, what of Ringo Rama? It is an album that continues in the tradition of 1992's Time Takes Time, and builds upon 1998's Vertical Man. It is a collection of enjoyable musical moments, no more and no less, much like Paul McCartney's early efforts with Wings. It isn't supposed to eclipse Sgt. Pepper, but merely showcase Ringo and his friends playing, recording, and enjoying their time together. Basically, it is the studio incarnation of the All Star Band concept that gels and tours every year or so.
Maybe that's why we love Ringo so much, as he is all about fun. And isn't that what music should be about, having fun?