Hey, kids! Who’s the greatest drummer of all time…?
Well, if you’re a drummer yourself, we will accept Buddy Rich, Neil Peart, Keith
Moon, or Animal from “The Muppet Show,” with bonus points awarded for selecting
a drummer’s drummer like, say, Dennis Chambers (formerly of Parliament-Funkadelic,
currently of Santana).
But if your birth name is Richard Starkey, well, there’s only ever going to be
one acceptable answer: Ringo Starr.
Of course, the reality of the matter is that, as loveable as our man Ringo may
be, once you escape from the genre of power pop, many of his fellow
percussionists don’t tend to rate him at all. Many, in fact, have
referred to him as “the luckiest drummer in music” (Google the phrase if you
don’t believe me) and casually dismiss his talents…which, if nothing else, were
certainly sufficient for the purposes of the billions who’ve bought Beatles
albums over the decades.
When it comes right down to it, though, Ringo didn’t have to be a great
drummer. He just had to be better than Pete Best.
As time went on, he didn’t even have to be that. He just had to be Ringo.
That’s most impressive about his ongoing solo career is that he really needn’t
continue to put out new material. He could simply coast on his inherent
Ringocity for the rest of his days, touring with the rotating members of his
All-Starr Band and let the crowd sing all the words of “Yellow Submarine” for
him…but he doesn’t. In fact, since hooking up with Mark Hudson – you may
remember his razzle-dazzle days as one of the Hudson Brothers – he’s been pretty
damned prolific, averaging a new disc of original material about every two
years. (Vertical Man, his first collaboration with Hudson, was arguably
his best work since the early ‘70s.)
Ringo’s also been easing away from a hallmark of his early stuff: a
preponderance of guest appearances. Robert Randolph contributes guitar to a few
songs, but he’s not what you’d call a huge name, and okay, Billy Preston’s here,
too, but he’s been in and out of Beatles recordings since Let It Be, so
he’s less a guest than he is extended family. Of late, Ringo’s been leaning
toward only one big name per disc; last time, it was a duet with Willie Nelson,
and, this time, he teams with Chrissie Hynde. Sadly, Hynde’s appearance isn’t
particularly memorable, though it’s not her fault; she didn’t have anything to
do with the writing of the decidedly underwhelming song.
Choose Love opens with another hallmark of the Ringo sound: a song that
has just enough of a similarity to a Beatles number to draw you into its
gravitational field. “Fading In Fading Out” is a great pop-rock track, but the
piano borrows just enough from “Don’t Pass Me By” (coincidentally, the first
song Starr ever wrote) that, by the time you’re done trying to remember why it
sounds familiar, you’re already enjoying the song on its own merits. The album’s
title cut is less successful with a similar concept: using a Beatles song title
in a lyric, in this case “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
“Oh My Lord,” with its gospel choir, has high aspirations, but, given a song by
one of Ringo’s former bandmates that also featured both “my” and “lord” in its
title, it’s hard not to make a comparison and find Ringo’s track somewhat
lacking. But “Wrong All The Time” is a solid country ballad, “Me and You” and
“Satisfied” are good-time numbers, and, okay, maybe it’s cheesy, but Starr still
pulls off a song entitled “Give Me Back The Beat.” In fact, after the surf
guitar and distorted vocals of “Free Drinks” close the festivities of Choose
Love, one begins to wonder – WARNING: possible blasphemy ahead! – if maybe Ringo might now be the ex-Beatle putting out the best solo albums these days.
Paul’s got a new one due later this year, so final judgment should probably be
reserved until then, but, in the meantime, listen to McCartney’s lukewarm
Driving Rain, then check out either of the albums Ringo’s put out since
then. It might be a close call, but I gotta tell ya, as far as this writer is
concerned, Ringo wins by a nose.