Bill King takes an advance look at Ringo Starr’s new album release …
Ringo’s “What’s My Name,” due out Oct. 25 (but made available digitally in advance for review), is aptly described in the liner notes provided by the record label as “the latest in a series of heartfelt and homespun records that Starr has produced in his home studio” featuring “a distinguished, ever-changing yet often repeating cast of musical characters and friends.”
“What’s My Name” certainly has its worthwhile moments, and at least three high points that stand out, but, overall, it isn’t as good an album as his previous two releases, 2015’s “Postcards From Paradise” and 2017’s “Give More Love.”
That’s mainly because there’s not as much variety in its musical stylings. I had been encouraged by Ringo’s foray into a bluesier sound last time, along with the inclusion of a straight-out country number on “Give More Love,” but the new album is all pretty much standard post-Mark Hudson Ringo, very reminiscent of the previous self-produced work he’s done with engineer Bruce Sugar since 2010.
Most of the advance publicity about the album has centered on him teaming up with Paul McCartney to record the 1980 John Lennon demo “Grow Old With Me,” and this new version of the love song, inspired by the poetry of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, certainly is the album’s best track. It features a string arrangement by former Lennon producer Jack Douglas and Daniel Cole that differs from the orchestration George Martin did at Yoko Ono’s request for the 1998 “John Lennon Anthology.” Ringo’s brother-in-law, Joe Walsh, also provides stylish guitar. And, McCartney contributes some tasty bass (you couldn’t mistake those fills for any other bassist). But, if you were expecting Paul to share the vocal with Ringo, you will be disappointed. His backing vocals on the middle break, and the final “God bless our love,” are so understated that you probably wouldn’t notice them if you didn’t know he was on the track.
Lifted from the album as the second digital single, “Grow Old With Me” has a charming video that utilizes Lennon’s handwritten lyrics.
The two other strongest tracks on the album are the upbeat numbers “Magic” (written with longtime All Starr Band member Steve Lukather) and “Thank God for Music” (written with freelance producer-writer Sam Hollander, a newcomer to Ringo’s musical posse). The very nicely arranged “Magic” has distinctive piano chords, a fine guitar solo by Lukather, and a very catchy chorus. “Thank God for Music” is a high-energy track that makes great use of the female backing vocalists that Ringo likes so much these days, and harks back to the “Ringo” era in its sound. It’s also the closest Ringo comes to his usual autobiographical number on this album, with its “from Liverpool to L.A.” lyric.
Not quite as memorable, but in the album’s second tier of pretty good songs, are the simple, midtempo restatement of Ringo’s positive philosophy, “Life Is Good” (inspired by a T-shirt company Ringo has teamed up with for a fundraiser), and the album’s other overt message song, “Send Love Spread Peace,” which has another catchy chorus, and benefits from the organ playing by Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers.
Pleasant, but not very memorable, are “It’s Not Love That You Want,” a typical latterday Ringo number cowritten with Dave Stewart, and “Better Days,” an upbeat, horn-backed rocker contributed by Hollander.
However, the remake of the Motown classic “Money (That’s What I Want),” which Lennon sang when The Beatles covered it, is a misfire, due to the rather heavy-handed autotuning of Ringo’s vocal throughout. I realize they were trying to come up with a different approach for a very familiar and oft-done number, but it doesn’t really work.
And, the weakest tracks, unfortunately, are the album opener (“Got to Get Up to Get Down,” done with Joe Walsh and Edgar Winter, and featuring Joe handling a couple of the verses, along with more vocal processing) and the closing title song, lifted as the first digital single. The latter is a sort of rock ’n’ roll travelogue written by frequent All Starr Colin Hay and featuring the timeworn concert audience bit (“What’s my name? RINGO!”). Both tracks rock convincingly, but there’s not much else to them. Just lyrics shouted out to pounding drums and squalling guitars.
Overall, I agree with Beatlefan Senior Editor Brad Hundt, who said recently he thinks it’s time for Ringo to shake up the format of his albums, bring in an outside producer (or several producers, like on “Time Takes Time”), or do that country album he’s long been talking about.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed most of Ringo’s self-produced work, but much of it is starting to sound the same. It’s time to turn the page.