Picks and Pans Review: Paul McCartney

UPDATED 09/26/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/26/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
POP
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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In an aside that will surely send Beatles fans scurrying into the hills above Los Angeles whenever Sir Paul is in town, McCartney confides in the press material for this quietly intimate and lovely album that he likes to trek into the canyons to "play my guitar in the great outdoors." One such getaway found him picking out the crystalline notes and lilting melody of "Jenny Wren," a tune about a heartbroken little girl that was inspired in part by his own Beatles beauty "Blackbird" and also by his favorite writer, Charles Dickens, whose Our Mutual Friend includes a character of the same name. Mining Dickens and his own life (on the sad but optimistic "Friends to Go" he channels his old mate George Harrison) brings out the best in McCartney. Now 63, and 20 albums into a prolific but sometimes spotty solo career, McCartney delivers a spare yet wonderfully melodic CD that has none of the bombast nor the sentimentality that has marred some of his past works. Like on his first, and arguably best, solo album, 1970's McCartney, he's a one-man band—or more accurately, a philharmonic. Leaving only the occasional percussion instrument and the strings—played with restraint and pathos throughout—to others, he plays grand piano, spinet, harpsichord, bass, guitars and even drums, flugelhorn and cello (not to mention synthesizer, recorders and, yes, the triangle). But it is his voice, unscarred by time, yet more resonant than ever, that is the standout instrument. With nary a rocker in the set, fans may miss the fabled McCartney scream, but the vocals, alternately mournful, wistful and rousing, and the high harmonies—dubbed by himself, of course—are vintage Paul.
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