Ringo Starr guards Beatles’ legacy with new album ‘Liverpool 8′

It’s the “Where are they now?” effect. Everyone loves to watch the careers of individual musicians after the groups that made them famous crash and burn. The classic rock band Cream provides an interesting case study: Eric Clapton is now widely acknowledged as one of the most talented guitarists of all time while Ginger Baker is virtually unknown.

Perhaps the most impressive group in this regard, however, is the Beatles. All four band-mates went on to have long, successful musical careers on their own. With the release of “Liverpool 8,” Ringo Starr’s 14th studio album, the former Beatles drummer lets his endearing personality shine and proves that he can still rock at the age of 67.

“Liverpool 8″ is Starr’s first album with record label EMI since 1975.

Ringo drums and sings on all of the album’s 12 tracks. He also wrote and produced the album alongside Mark Hudson and Dave Stewart.

“Liverpool 8″ offers a solid mix of country and blues-flavored pop. The most successful songs on the album are the least produced though, carrying on the tried-and-true tradition of simple, twanging country melodies. Starr’s signature steady drumbeat — cited as an influence by musicians as different as Phil Collins and Dave Grohl — underscores each song and is especially prominent on the faster blues numbers such as “Now That She’s Gone Away.”

Some of the song-writing on “Liverpool 8″ leaves something to be desired, such as several kindergarten-quality rhymes in the title track: “In the U.S.A. when we played Shea, we were number ne, and it was fun. When I look back, it sure was cool, for those four boys from Liverpool.”

But even the silliest lyrics, when sung in Ringo’s distinctive baritone, create an unexpected level of wistful nostalgia. Despite years of smoking, Starr’s deep voice sounds clear and better than ever, tinged with doleful reflection on days gone by.

Contemplation of the past continues in the somber “Gone are the Days,” which features a psychedelic sound similar to that of the Beatles’ experimental “Sergeant Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour”(1967).

The musical influence of the Beatles is evident in the style of many of the tracks on “Liverpool 8,” not to mention many of the lyrics. The album’s title track, which refers to the neighborhood in Liverpool, England where Starr grew up, is perhaps a bit too autobiographical. He mentions the other members of the band by name and refers overtly to specific events. The music video of the song even intersperses old clips of Ringo as a Beatle with a present-day live performance.

But Beatles fans will delight in the allusions to the British band’s heyday in the 1960s, and Starr’s sweetly reminiscent tone is guaranteed to stir the hearts of all those who admire his former bandmates, especially the late John Lennon and George Harrison.

Not all of the songs on the album are sentimental tributes, however. “Think About You” is a hard-rocking blues number that showcases Ringo’s talent as a drummer and sounds as if it came straight out of Texas, a la Stevie Ray Vaughan. “Harry’s Song,” written for Starr’s old friend, the 1960s American songwriter Harry Nilsson, features simple lyrics and bouncy rhythms that drench the song in charismatic cheer.

In the Spanish number “Pasodobles” — a unique genre experiment — Ringo delivers throaty vocals in an almost unrecognizable voice, backed by bongos and classical guitar.

Although it concerns serious subject matter, the album’s last song “R U Ready?” ends the record on an upbeat tone. The song is a meditation on his own impending mortality, but Ringo’s voice is technologically altered to sound like it’s emanating from a car radio: “So why hold on, hold on; it’s good that you believe, but it’s better if you don’t.” The track plays like a heartwarming old American folk song, emphasized by slide guitar and a plucky mandolin solo.

A true proponent of 1960s values, the primary message of “Liverpool 8″ is the importance of peace and love. Still, his recent actions reveal that he still has some of the rock ‘n’ roll rebel left in him, regardless of the calming influence of the passage of time. Last week, Ringo walked out of a scheduled performance on “Live! with Regis and Kelly” after he refused to cut the five-minute song “Liverpool 8″ down to two and a half minutes. Rock on, Ringo.

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