Paul McCartney NEW
The new Paul McCartney album really is new. It surrounds classic McCartney-isms with energy and freshness that’s largely absent in McCartney’s not-so-well-received previous album, “Kisses on the Bottom.” That album of standards inspired some reviewers to brand the singer as elderly.
For “New,” the revitalized McCartney collaborates with four producers young enough to be his kids. Normally, the general public wouldn’t be interested who’s producing, but Paul Epworth guided Adele’s amazingly popular second album, “21.” Mark Ronson helped make Amy Winehouse a star. Giles Martin is the son of Beatles producer George Martin and Ethan Johns’ dad, Glyn, worked on the Beatles’ “Let It Be” album and Wings albums. Martin and Johns have their own previous credits, of course, including Johns’ work with Kings of Leon.
McCartney, 71, rocks briskly through the Epworth-co-produced “Save Us.” Containing signature McCartney harmonies, the song sounds like the beloved Beatle of old, but louder, bolder. In the Ronson-co-produced “Alligator,” McCartney comes off refreshed within another Beatles-esque scheme of things in which up-tempo rock contrasts with a slower, more melodic section.
Maybe it’s no surprise that a Martin co-production, “On My Way to Work,” draws memories of the elder Martin’s Beatles productions. McCartney’s writing for the song, too, is vital even as his identifiable turns of melody and chord progressions arise. Another Martin co-production, “Early Days,” offers bright layers of plucked and strummed strings while McCartney sings of youthful Liverpool days spent with his friend, John Lennon. And Ronson co-produces the best pop song on the album, the happy keyboard march and title song, “New.”
The album would have been stronger minus a lesser song or two. And a bonus song, “Scared,” is well worth hearing. On balance, “New” shows McCartney returning to form, announcing loudly, clearly that he is not ready to leave the stage.
Willie Nelson TO ALL THE GIRLS…
Willie Nelson’s third album in 16 months presents the 80-year-old singer-guitarist in 18 duets. “To All the Girls…” pairs Nelson with some fellow classic country acts — Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris — and such younger acts as Carrie Underwood, Alison Krauss, Brandi Carlile and Miranda Lambert. In tune with the album’s title, no guys included.
Nelson sings with his usual elegance, but these are not casual performances. They have depth and heartfelt expression. Nelson’s singing partners respond in kind, although the biggest star on the album, Underwood, sounds over the top. Supporting arrangements and musicianship, including Nelson’s signature Spanish guitar and Mickey Raphael’s subtly placed harmonica, are impeccable.
Ballads, intimacy and waltz tempos dominate the well-chosen set list. Other songs have an easy, classic-country sway. Overall, the effect is akin to the enveloping warmth of a wood fire on a December night.
A few songs speed things up, an example being “Bloody Mary Morning” with Wynonna Judd. Nelson, even at a racing tempo, doesn’t sound as if he breaks a sweat. Adding to the album’s variety, there’s a collaboration of greats when Nelson joins Mavis Staples for a quietly urgent rendition of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands.” And despite the generations between Nelson and the Texas-raised Norah Jones, their duet of “Walkin’ ” is among the greatest matches of all.