Various Artists/Ram On: The 50th Anniversary Tribute to Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram/Cherry Red Records
4.5 out of five stars
With a cast of thousands—well, at least dozens—Ram On is something of an epic as far as the undertaking is concerned, a noble attempt to replicate and pay homage to Ram, the 1971 album credited to Paul and Linda McCartney, the only effort in the Macca catalog to hold such a distinction. McCartney’s second post-Beatles outing, and the immediate predecessor to the couple’s work with Wings, it was an unabashedly elaborate offering, one flush with extravagant arrangements, complex melodies and a whimsical attitude, providing the Macs with an ideal opportunity to let loose with pure pop and an abundance of self-assured silliness. Recorded with a contingent of New York session players, it was derided by some at the time—John Lennon being one of its more prominent detractors—but given this revisit, it holds up surprisingly well some 50 year on.
Consequently, credit producers Fernando Perdomo and Denny Seiwell for sharing the idea of recreating the album in its entirely. For Perdomo, an artist of untethered ambition—his recent instrumental tribute to Todd Rundgren, TRGTR, and the ever-increasing demand for his talents as a producer and musical provide multiple examples of his extraordinary reach—it was an opportunity to pay tribute to an album that made an indelible impression on him, even as a child. Seiwell can claim a special connection; he was the drummer that McCartney hired for the sessions.
Other notables participate as well—among them, Elton John’s long-serving guitarist Davey Johnstone, bassist Will Lee, singer Carney Wilson, X’s DJ Bonebrake, Wilco’s Pat Sansone,Probyn Gregory from Brian Wilson’s backing band, and two other original participants in the original Ram sessions—guitarist Dave Spinozza, and uncredited trumpet player Marvin Stamm. The remaining contributors are mostly a mix of musicians Perdomo knows from his former Florida haunts and those he’s acquainted with in Southern California, the place he currently calls home. All involved perform their parts with ability and agility, applying their talents with the kind of taste and tenacity that was clearly required.
Indeed, that adroit execution takes many turns, but in most cases, the musicians ape Ram’s original arrangements. That’s evident with “Too Many People,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Smile Away,” Heart of the Country,” and “Another Day”—the latter an initial stand-alone single that wasn’t included on any album. So too, most of the vocalists mimic McCartney’s singing, from the more tender tones to his raucous rock and roll revelry, holding to each tune’s template in the process. Only a couple of the tracks vary to any degree, specifically in through the bluesier bluster given the somewhat slight “3 Legs” and a playful ukulele, Wurlitzer and whistle rendition of “Ram On.”
It’s a lot to absorb, but taken in tandem it’s an absolute triumph, one that does the original album justice and restores its lingering legacy at the same time. No doubt, Paul will be proud.