While the heavyweights who didn't put out new albums for the school-opening rush lie in wait, anticipating the Christmas buying season (beginning around mid-October - and you thought Christmas was a week before the New Year), some pretty impressive middleweights are punching the between-the-major-releases lull into submission.
RINGO STARR: "Ringo the 4th" (Atlantic SD 19108). Thank heaven for Ringo. While Paul McCartney rakes in millions, John Lennon goes on sabbatical, and George Harrison attempts comebacks, Richard Starkey allows us to accept him as just another bloke out for a good time. The fact that Ringo was a Beatle in a former life does not keep him from enjoying himself to the hilt and bringing his listeners along for the ride. The Beatles of "A Hard Day's Night" magic days still live in Ringo's unabashed vinyl playfulness.
Truth is, Ringo is lot less mediocre and a lot more confident than many people realize. Despite the Mike Nesmith-like lethargy of "Gypsies in Flight" and a rather uneventful "Gave It All Up," there are some definite crowd-pleasers here.
"Drowning in the Sea of Love" is an appropriately rousing cover of the Gamble and Huff penned hit, and "Out on the Streets" might well be Ringo and Vandellas. "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley" is a tough song to ruin and, though this rendition of Allen Toussaint's jumper doesn't have the flair of Robert Palmer's, it is pleasant and lively. "Can She Do It Like She Dances" is upbeat, good-time fluff and the Starkey/Vinnie Poncia collaboration "It's No Secret," proves to be a surprisingly moving ballad.
Ringo's albums generally employ old friends and this time he gets help from Bette Middler, Melissa Manchester and the ever-present Brecker Brothers.
PHOEBE SNOW: "Never Letting Go" (Columbia JC 34875). Phoebe Snow came out of nowhere (nowhere being synonymous with Teaneck, N.J.) several years ago with the offbeat smash, "Poetry Man," and has been attempting to recreate that success ever since. Her career has been marked by some brilliant work - a duet with Paul Simon on "Gone at Last" and a lovely interpretation of the old torcher "Teach Me Tonight" come immediately to mind. Yet, for the most part, Snow's been a performer in search of a consistent style. Her last record, "It Looks Like Snow" (Columbia PC 34387), was an attempt to reach the rock audience responsible for her initial popularity. With "Never Letting Go," she's back in a ballad groove, where she seems most comfortable.
"Ride the Elevator" and "Electra" are uptempo, but they are exceptions and cannot compete with the tenderness of Stephen Bishop's title cut and Paul Simon's "Something So Right." Snow's own "Middle of the Night" and Clifford Hayes' "Garden of Joy Blues" are new songs cast in traditional styles, while "We're Children" and "Majesty of Life" add to the record's overall middle-of-the-road quality.
The whole effort is greatly enhanced by the production of Phil Ramone, who can take a lot of the credit for the success of Paul Simon, and by the instrumental and vocal support of jazz players like Grady Tate and Phil Woods.