Paul McCartney has never forgotten the seminal rockers who originally inspired him, American icons such as Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Larry Williams, Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent. The very first conversation McCartney had with John Lennon was about the lyrics to Vincent's "Be-Bop-a-Lula"--they were 16 and 14, respectively--and much of their early catalogue, from the Quarry Men to the Beatles, consisted of '50s rock-and-roll standards.
McCartney has revisited the '50s on several occasions--most recently on 1988's "Russian Album"--and it's hearth and home again on "Run Devil Run" (Capitol). Twelve of the 15 songs are chestnuts (though more B-sides than hits), and the other three are idiomatically appropriate originals. Throughout, McCartney's singing summons up youthful vigor and abandon, from the reverb- and echo-laden rendering of Vincent's "Blue Jean Bop" and Johnny Burnette's "Honey Hush" to the raucous Liverpool-Hamburg cacophony of Williams's "She Said Yeah" (which suggests Williams's better-known "Bony Moronie").
This is the first McCartney album since the death of his wife, Linda, and the three original songs--"What It Is," "Try Not to Cry" and the title cut--offer different levels of homage to his longtime partner, with whom he shared a love of old-time rock-and-roll. "Try Not to Cry" has a bounding energy along with a melancholy underpinning, as when McCartney sings, "I want to enjoy being alive/ Don't want to leave before I arrive." There's also a hint of sorrow in McCartney's reading of Ricky Nelson's "Lonesome Town" and his cool Roy Orbisonesque recasting of the Vipers' skiffle hit "No Other Baby."
The best of the originals is "Run Devil Run," which has the rough-hewn jet propulsion of Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," thanks to the pounding piano of Pete Wingfield, who also powers a fervent revival of Little Richard's "Shake a Hand" and one of two Presley nods, "Party." The other Presley song is "All Shook Up," but it lacks the taut, terse energy of the original, much better captured in the rockabilly fervor of "Movie Magg," a bracing Perkins chug-along. The album's only misreadings: a flat Fats Domino homage, "Coquette," and Berry's "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," which has a Cajun flavor that makes it sounds like a Champs tune--"Tequila," but without bite.
With some special guests--guitarists David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Mick Green, who was in the roots-rock band Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, and Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice--McCartney cut "Run Devil Run" quickly and without much rehearsal. It sounds as if he hasn't had this much fun in decades.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8153.)
CAPTION: "Run Devil Run" is Paul McCartney's first album since wife Linda's death.