Some of the greatest rock rock concerts I ever witnessed were Paul McCartney sound checks. Few touring artists get loose like the former Fab, who warms up for his slick stadium and arena shows with long sets of rock and R&B standards — material that recaptures some of the Beatles’ Hamburg-club-era roughness. Over the years, McCartney has repeatedly revisited his musical roots (perhaps most notably on his Choba B CCP act of musical glasnost). Now, in the wake of personal tragedy, having lost the love of his life, McCartney seems to have found some solace in his earliest passions.
The resulting album is a vivid reminder of McCartney’s massive natural charm and innate musicality. It’s impossible not to be affected by the intimate way in which he invests himself in these primal songs of loss and love, especially “No Other Baby,” a minor hit for Chad and Jeremy, and Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town.” McCartney also successfully tackles two Elvis gems, “All Shook Up” and “I Got Stung.” This is timeless teen music performed with youthful abandon but with added adult resonance. Other offerings don’t require any context whatsoever — just an open ear — such as his delicious, Cajun-flavored cover of “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and a tough take on “She Said Yeah.” It’s a testament to the quality of McCartney’s three original songs — the title track, “Try Not to Cry” and “What It Is” — that they don’t sound out of place with these short but sweet chestnuts.
Run Devil Run — produced by McCartney with Chris Thomas and featuring backing by, among others, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice — is simultaneously heartbreaking and life affirming. It’s a hint that the upbeat optimism that has caused this man to so often be critically undervalued is tied to the same strength that is seeing him through. As for the rest of us, we get a great, unpretentious rock & roll record into the bargain.