Mr. Versitality - Ringo Starr - Rocks Again!

By John Whelan

Mon, 28 Dec 1998

Incredible is the only word to describe it! Ringo has now produced two outstanding back-to-back CD's for Mercury Records. First it was "Vertical Man" and now it's with "Storytellers." Ringo using the talents of Mark Hudson and the main musical entourage used on "Vertical Man" CD has helped Ringo find the right "chemistry" in making music that not only rocks, but is fun and enjoyable to listen to.

"Storytellers" is a "live album" of music (for VH1) which chronicles both his Beatle and solo years...most of the compositions are Ringo's (in some cases some songs were written With A Little Help From His Friends) while two other songs are from Lennon-McCartney which are included in this showcase. In-between the songs, Ringo provides some very noteworthy stories as to how the songs came about into being...a great way to cue up the songs and keeps the theme of the VH1 special -- Storytellers -- moving along. Somehow the mix of Starr's stories and his excellent music performed on this CD makes this a "must-have" in any Beatle solo collection.

Did I just say excellent music is performed on "Storytellers"? Right, I did.

In fact what makes this album work out so well is that the musicians are not trying to upstage Ringo. When the musicians sing harmony for Ringo, they try and do sound very close to the original LP/CD and single releases. For example, on "It Don't Come Easy" the band harmonizes on parts that you would hear in the single and do a very good job of it too. It even gets better on "Octopus's Garden" and "Photograph". The vocal harmonies on "Octopus's Garden" are as about as close and identical (no exaggeration here) to that of his song found on "Abbey Road". You'll be thinking your listening to John Lennon on stage with Ringo on this number. Ringo's band are not only good vocal impersonators on this number but also great guitar impersonators here as they hit almost note perfect the chords that Harrison plucked out for Ringo during the original recording of "Octopus's Garden". On "Photograph" the harmony backing and Ringo's mournful voice are faultless as the original hit and while what may be lacking from the original string arrangement of "Photograph," the bands performance is more than accomplished enough on this number to make it a truly enjoyable listening experience once again (after all these years!). Magic and fun can be found on "Don't Pass Me By". This is one those songs found on this CD which is, in my opinion, better than the original release. Could it be that the band actually sounds like they're performing together (as a unit) and are having fun on this number as they give it their best country swing to Richie's song? Definitely so! In fact, Scott Gordon's harmonica playing on this number really adds something extra to the song and gets the band moving nicely on it. At the end of the song Ringo was surprised but noted that the song had "some youngsters in the front singing it." Ready for some strident guitar work on this album? Look no further than to "Back Off Boogaloo." As in the original hit, which the song demands excellent guitar licks and a steady beat, this live performance of "Back Off Boogaloo" is a real treat. I've always thought the guitar work and drumming and the pace of the song must of been tricky to perform in the studio...but the band backing up Ringo here do a very admirable job in coming close to original as possible. For a live number, this turned better than what I expected from the CD (which means folks, pretty darn good!).

The two Lennon-McCartney numbers are "Love Me Do" and "With A Little Help From My Friends". Ringo's treatment of "Love Me Do" is exactly the same as the one found on "Vertical Man" - only difference here is that you're hearing the live version and, maybe in some ways, even sounds just a little bit better than the one on Vertical Man...but not by a whole lot...just the fresh live performance resonates Ringo's feel for the song. "With A Little Help From My Friends" is a song as Ringo says "been following me around for the past thirty years"...need I say more here? Great opening number for "Storytellers" and Ringo closes the album with it as well. There are more tracks on this CD but the balance of the songs are from "Vertical Man." Ringo selected "I Was Walkin'", "King of Broken Hearts" , "La De Da", and "What In the...World". And there is nothing short in the performances of these songs. In fact, they are performed identically to what you hear (if you happen to have bought a copy) on "Vertical Man" and are very enjoyable to listen to. Overall, this is a great album from Ringo. I will give Ringo on a scale of 1 to 10, definitely a **10**. Hats off to Mark Hudson and Scott Gordon who did a truly amazing mixing job of the music considering it was recorded in a modest VH1 studio. You guys certainly have "aced" this project for Ringo! Well done! Looking for more great material from you guys in '99!

- John Whelan

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