Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Wings Over America - They've Never Sounded Better
Today sees the re-release of Wings Over America, and a more perfect way to waltz into the summer season is hard to imagine. Maybe what I like most about it is the act of the artist actually giving a damn, and supplying fans with value for their money. Paul McCartney has yet to rest upon his laurels - he's still doing lively and long shows to loving throngs, and when he puts out product, it delivers on the promise.
Originally released in 1976, Wings Over America sounds as fresh today as it did during the summer of America's bicentennial. That year, the three album set sold over 4 million copies, and landed on top of the Billboard Album Charts - it might not perform quite that well this summer, but it will stand as one of the best packages released in 2013.
I recently saw Rockshow, the DVD filmed on the same tour, in a cinema and I was amazed at my response - it was like being 16 again. I was giddy with excitement, and every tune took me back to somewhere both familiar and great. The almost two and a half hour show never sagged, it sailed from beginning to end.
McCartney successfully manages to make the argument that he may just be the most well rounded musician to ever grace a stage. His writing is easily equal to any, his singing is inspired and strong throughout, his piano playing is as good as any rock 'n' rollers, his bass playing is rivaled by few in any genre, and while he's always the star, he still manages to share the stage with his band, giving them ample opportunity to shine and when they are busy shining, Paul plays the consummate sideman. If anyone has offered a more complete package, I can't recall it.
And what a band. Denny Laine, who supplied a multi-instrumental flair, an excellent voice, and songwriting skills to boot, had been pulled from relative anonymity by McCartney when the ex-Beatle decided to form a band and hit the road. Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch was recruited after Paul, Denny, and Linda had recorded Band On The Run in Lagos, Nigeria, and his fiery lead work is still a wonder to experience - McCulloch succumbed to a heroin overdose in 1979 at the age of just 26, and it's one of rock's strangest ironies that his most remembered performance is singing the anti-drug classic, Medicine Jar on the band's Venus and Mars album, an album nearly performed in whole on this live set. Joe English, an unlikely unknown is a marvel behind the drum kit, and also a fine accompanying vocalist. Rounding out the band is the missus - Paul's Linda, and her performances here are downright charming. Linda and Paul endured great criticism over her presence on the stage, but the result is still a remarkable live album and film, so damn the critics. The band is superb, they are given great latitude to display their talents, and they deliver in spades.
Paul McCartney's performance is a wonder to behold - he makes it look so easy that one has to step back, watch, listen, then realize that what you have before you is truly a musical god. His skillset is indeed hard to match, and he has a great time displaying them. If anyone at these shows had more fun, it would be a surprise.
As remasters go, this one is a huge success - McCartney's voice is captured in crisp high fidelity, as is the entire show. The guitars are punchy and vibrant - McCulloch is forever documented as an amazingly sharp soloist, and Laine's inventive versatility is highlighted as he maneuvers from double neck electric to bass to acoustic guitar, and piano. Maybe the coolest feature of the remastering process is the sound of McCartney's Rickenbacker bass. Sitting comfortably in the front of the mix, it becomes apparent that Paul is quite deserving when referred to by many as rock's best bassist. The separation is succinct, and the rich tone-fulness of every instrument is superb throughout. This should be textbook material for anyone who will ever mix a live record - it gets little better than this.
There's no need for me to go into individual song performances, but I will mention that the Wings material has aged very well, and stands next to The Beatles classics quite well. There's no time in which the set sags - it starts on a high and remains there for the duration. Whether you were one of the original millions who owned Wings Over America, or not, this remastered re-release is a winner. The remaster does sound better than the original CD release, and its crisp, in-your-face mix will have you smiling from ear to ear all summer long.
Hats off to Mr. McCartney for showing that he still cares - in a day and age when the competition for the entertainment dollar is at an all time high, the cute Beatle remains a stellar bargain.
Special mention to the late Jimmy McColluch - this set reminds me what a gifted and special guitarist the young Scot was, and what the world lost with his passing. His playing here is phenomenal - the notes, the tones, his phrasing are all essential rock listening.