Ringo Starr – Postcards from Paradise (2015)

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Ringo Starr’s solo albums have a certain rhythm of their own, even the less-heralded ones.

We love Ringo’s aw-shucks deprecations, his chuckling mischievousness, his always-second place narratives. But he has to guard against caricature, against letting his easy-going manner define his work as a throwaway or too precious. He has to find the right mix of collaborators, too. Ringo Starr has typically succeeded inside a communal atmosphere with established bandmates — 1973’s platinum smash Ringo always come to mind — rather than with ad hoc sessions men and outsiders.

So, for years, his best-loved projects tended to be those that had the indelible fingerprints of his Beatles brethren on them, when George Harrison (“Photograph,” “It Don’t Come Easy,” “King of Broken Hearts”), John Lennon (“I’m the Greatest,” “Goodnight Vienna,” “Only You”) or Paul McCartney (“Six O’Clock,” “Private Property,” “Walk with You”) made notable contributions.

With Postcards from Paradise, due March 31, 2015 via Universal, he’s finally found the kind of trusted collaborative voices to succeed on that level once again — both in terms of the material, and the performances. The album crackles with a wit, and charm, that has too often been missing since Ringo Starr’s initial years as a solo artist, when he scored two Top 5 albums and eight Top 10 singles between 1970-75.

Credit his enduring relationship with the current edition of his All-Starr Band, a group which has established a striking rapport on stage, and now brings that same sense of genuine regard and musical chemistry to bear on Postcards from Paradise. That’s perhaps best heard on the title track, co-written by and performed with All-Starr bandmate Todd Rundgren, as it takes a winking trip through Beatledom — one interlocking lyrical reference after another. There’s an impish joy in connecting the dots.

Each member, including Richard Page, Gregg Rolie and Steve Lukather, contributed to “Island in the Sun,” a song that catches a simply relentless Caribbean-spiced groove and never lets it go. Meanwhile, “You Bring the Party Down,” another collaboration with Lukather, has an intriguing dark streak to it — something not typically associated with Ringo Starr’s happy-go-lucky public persona. After a sly moment of encouragement from Ringo, Lukather adds a new shiver of portent with this scalding turn on guitar.

The heart of Postcards from Paradise, these All-Starr songs buoy everything that surrounds them — including, it’s clear, Ringo Starr himself. The ultimate band mate, Starr sounds whole again.

“Not Looking Back,” which boasts this similarly emotional bent, finds Starr returning to a theme familiar from songs like “Photograph,” but he presents it this time with a patina of age-earned wisdom. “Let Love Lead,” a song that was also reportedly considered as the title song for this 18th solo release, gives Ringo a chance to reframe his personal mantra (“peace and love, peace and love”) into a stirringly anthemic closing moment. Starr sings (here, as elsewhere) with surprising power, too. He never had that much range as a vocalist, but he’s lost none of the range he had.

Even the more obvious earlier conceits on Postcards from Paradise — the easy reminiscences of “Rory and the Hurricanes,” the sun-flecked kitsch of “Touch and Go,” the stay-straight message of “Right Side of the Road,” the second-line goof of “Bamboula” — are presented with an agreeable delight and a smart will-to-fun that’s too often been missing from Starr’s post-Ringo solo albums.

After years of touring in various configurations, Ringo Starr has put together more than just the longest-tenured edition of his All-Starr Band. He’s finally rediscovered the kind of camaraderie — personal and musical — that propelled him to stardom in the first place.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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