On “Y Not,” his 16th album, Ringo Starr offers a Beatles collaboration that closes the circle started with his solo career-making turn on George Harrison‘s “It Don’t Come Easy” from 1971.
“Walk With You,” a duet with fellow bandmate Paul McCartney, finds the friendly bravado of Ringo’s best early records melting into a sadly appropriate melancholy — and not the put-on, aw-shucks kind so familiar from his youthful performances as a member of the Fab Four.
Instead, “Walk With You” features perhaps the darkest, most mature chorus of any song he’s put out. McCartney’s vocal works in counterpoint, taking the high road, while Starr intertwines beside and underneath.
Set for issue today on Hip-O, “Y-Not” often sounds like one of Ringo’s recent All-Starr tours. But in a good way. Nobody is trying too hard, and his record — the first Starr has produced himself — is better, warmer, for it.
There are guest shots from brother-in-law Joe Walsh (on the effortlessly affable opener “Fill in the Blanks”), Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart (on “The Other Side of Liverpool,” co-writer Starr’s most frankly autobiographical take on his youth), Ben Harper, Edgar Winter, Richard Marx and, on the final cut, neo-soul stylist Joss Stone (the fun barrelhouse finale “Who’s Your Daddy?”).
Of course, Starr’s Fab collaboration will get the most attention. And, really, it should.
McCartney had initially been invited to add the bass part for the sometimes perfunctory “Peace Dream” (a collaboration between Starr and legendary composer and arranger Van Dyke Parks), but was struck by “Walk With You.” Paul’s vocal — a quick breath behind Ringo’s, it’s like an echoing afterthought — recalls their fresh, offbeat Abbey Road constructions. Only there are these soft edges associated with age, and with loss.
“He makes it bigger and he makes it fuller,” Ringo said in published reports this week. “It makes the song like a conversation between us, and that was Paul’s idea to do his part one beat behind me. That’s why he’s a genius.”
On first blush, there’s not much to the lyric: When I walk with you, when I talk with you, everything will be fine. But you’re reminded of the history here, and the repeated words begin to unravel on themselves. Even as proud survivors, there is always an inevitable devastation for those left behind.
It couldn’t have come easy. Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, singing finally without the other half of the Beatles, tap into the deep well of emotion associated with those who fortunately and also, in a way, unfortunately remain.
They are at once together, but alone.
In this way, “Walk With You” is a wonder.