Paul McCartney, Kisses on the Bottom. When you get older the Bucket List gets to be much more luminous. Whatever it is you've been putting off in life, it's best time to get to it. No doubt Paul McCartney has had these songs running around his expansive mind since his parents used to do them at family "sing songs" well before the Beatle was a Beatle. Now that he's almost as rich as Warren Buffett and is cruising towards 70, why not enlist premier producer Tommy LiPuma and the best musicians in the world to record "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" and a dozen other standards? Throw in two new songs and have an instant Starbucks album.
Even though McCartney is no Jimmy Scott when it comes to romantic ballads, he still has a heart as big as Shea Stadium. You can feel it in the way he approaches this music. It's like his beloved mother and father are looking over his shoulder, reminding him of the warmth of being young and listening to the adults have their way with these songs. What comes out is something much closer to joy than heartbreak, and in this world that's a very good thing.
Here's an idea: with the other living Beatle Ringo Starr releasing a new album recently, isn't it time the band's rhythm section reunite and see if two minds really are better than one? There has to be some kind of symbiosis from that kind of collaboration, even if it's just a take on the Beatles' notorious Hamburg sets in the early '60s, before the world split open and they changed our channel forever. All those Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Everly Brothers songs are just waiting to be rejuvenated now by rockers who know how they're supposed to sound. If that's not the new Great American Songbook, what is? Rave on.
Mitch Ryder, The Promise. Sometimes a song tears open the chest, pulls out the heart, and throws it on the ground, proceeding to stomp all over it until all that's left is a slightly beating blob in a small pool of blood. That's exactly what Mitch Ryder's "Thank You Mama" does. For unknown reasons Ryder missed his mother and father's funerals, but now pours every ounce of emotion he has into this tour de force of feeling. It's every mother's son's tale of longing and, hopefully, inspiration. Bless his heart for starting his first American album in 30 years with it, even if it's a very hard act to follow. But follow the Motor City hero does, proving that he's one of the great blue-eyed soul singers of all time, not to mention a survivor of the highest order.
The Promise is exactly that, too. Produced by fellow Detroiter Don Was, it shines a light on someone who really hasn't gotten his deserved props in the United States. Everyone with half an ear likely remembers Mitch Ryder's early hits, including the chest-thumper "Sock It To Me, Baby," and aficionados might even recall his band Detroit's all-time rendition of the Velvet Underground's "Rock & Roll." But really, for almost 45 years the man has had to look to Europe for a musical home. Thank goodness they received and nurtured him with open arms all this time.
Mitch Ryder now gets even, sounding like a thoroughbred busting to get out of the gate. Don Was has assembled a blazing band of rhythm & bluesers that includes the eternally evocative drummer James Gadsen and bassist Reggie McBride. Best of all, though, are original songs like "Crazy Beautiful," "My Heart Belongs to Me," and "Get Real." They are heartfelt tales of what someone named William Levise has lived and learned. After turning like a musical butterfly into Mitch Ryder as a young man, he has gone on to explore everything the musical world has to offer, always keeping his promises. Finally a new album shows what a wonderful world that can be.
Maggie & Terre Roche, Seductive Reasoning. Sometimes it's great how the past keeps knocking on the door. Sisters Maggie and Terre Roche were taking a class at New York University when they met Paul Simon, and ended up singing on his 1973 album There Goes Rhymin' Simon. That kind of association got you an instant record deal in the early '70s, which is where Seductive Reasoning comes from. Released by Columbia Records in 1975, the Roches' undeniable harmonies and witty Greenwich Village-influenced lyrics show how two young women from New Jersey could adapt to almost anything in the rough and ready streets of New York then. Mixing humor and heartache, it was a heady time to be introduced to an audience that seemed ready for almost anything.
For all its big city smarts, some of the music was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with the same studio players who'd made all those devastating soul hits with Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and others. It's an alluring blend of funky bottom and sweetner top, creating a sound that caught the attention of critics at note one. Other songs were produced by once-Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith and even rhymin' Paul Simon himself. Looking back now, there might have been a lack of focus keeping the release from finding an audience, or maybe it really was a matter of being ahead of their time. Soon enough third sister Suzzy Roche joined her siblings and they moved on to Warner Bros. for a closer call with fame. Alas, that didn't quite occur either, and the Roches took their place in the highly-influential-but-not-quite successful class of artists loved by all who heard them.
A quick tip: There exists an irresistible band of also-rans with a stellar Greenwich Village pedigree called Jake & the Family Jewels that can't be overlooked for casting their influence among that hip downtown crowd. Fronted by Jake Jacobs from '60s group the Magicians, the band released two albums in the early '70s that for some unexplainable reason still haven't found their way to compact disc. The exciting mish-mash of folk, country, jug band and jazzy styles collides in an intoxicating swirl of fun and infamy, and if there is a speck of justice left in the record business (don't hold your breath) will someday finds it way to a shining day in the sun. Listen now and levitate soon.