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McCartney

Paul McCartney

1970

Paul McCartney's debut solo album was met with widespread critical disdain upon it's release.  This is because, upon first listen anyway, this album pales in comparison to most anything he did with The Beatles, and folks certainly had high expectations for each of the Fab Four's solo albums (well, except maybe Ringo's).  That said, I personally find much to like on this album.  It's incredibly modest and subdued in nature.  It has a haunting, home-made, yet tossed-off feel about it, suggesting Paul was hardly trying during the recording process.  But therein lies the charm, as McCartney's sleepy, unambitious vibe is exactly what makes it enjoyable.  It's one of those albums you can listen to on a lazy, rainy Sunday morning, while you enjoy the art of doing nothing.  Overall, while certainly a bit underwhelming, I find McCartney to be a uniquely unassuming, warm, and pleasant listening experience.

8.9

Ram

Paul McCartney

1971

I first stumbled upon Ram at an interesting time in my life.  I was flying out to Reno to visit an old friend I hadn't seen since 2009: Lake Tahoe.  I used to drive up to Tahoe from San Francisco at least 2-3 times a year to get out of the city and immerse myself in the beautiful Sierra Nevada (along with immersing myself in booze and gambling).  I missed Tahoe, and I needed to see her.  I was also going out there to kind of say goodbye to California in a way too.  You see, in the months leading up to my trip, I had changed jobs twice, got married, bought a house, and was expecting my first child in a few months.  Although I loved Chicago and immersing myself in a purely urban existence, I missed the natural beauty of California and the vibe that was probably more in tune to my inner self.  I had a history out there, and it was the first place that truly felt like home to me.  But with all the changes that year, along with a baby on the way, I kind of knew my visits to California would likely become very few and far between in the coming years.

As I drove through the Reno outskirts/suburbs up to Tahoe, I passed through cul-de-sacs full of little boxes on the hillside, little boxes filled with ticky-tacky that all looked just the same, and a part of me envied that type of simple/quiet existence.  This was after all the traditional image I had of myself raising a family, and I was trying to reconcile that with the fact that we had just bought a house in Logan Square, a densely populated, raw, and somewhat sketchy part of Chicago.  So instead of a nice, quiet, new home in a picturesque setting, I would be raising my family in an old fixer-upper, in a bustling area of the city, surrounded by concrete, traffic, horns, sirens, and the like.  Although I championed that type of environment during my 20s, I wasn't quite sure how becoming a "family man" would jive with it.

Anyway, I paint that picture because that's what this album represents to me.  A time, a place, and conflicting feelings about it all.  Ram was Paul McCartney's full embrace of a rural lifestyle, of the simple pleasures of raising a family with the woman you love in a pristine, carefree setting.  It's such a warm, relaxing, fun, goofy, whimsical, yet occasionally haunting album.  As I drove into the mountains, it seemed to be taunting me ("Ram On", "Dear Boy", "Heart of the Country"), it seemed to plant a seed of doubt in my head that I had made a mistake about committing to a purely urban lifestyle, that I had perhaps forgotten about my love for the outdoors, my love of peace and quiet, and my love of California.  There were paths that could have lead me to that existence, perhaps living the simple life in the Sierras, or perhaps somewhere nearby, but the various branches I followed led me to different people, to different places, to ultimately where I was at that moment.  I was generally happy with my path, but life is full of infinite possibilities and choices, choices that can be subtle yet can drastically alter your path.  I had made it a point to take the road less traveled in my life, to challenge myself to push into occasionally unfamiliar/uncomfortable directions, just for the sake of seeing where it led. 

Ram made me consider the alternatives to living in an urban existence, and served as my farewell soundtrack to California, a part of the country that gave me so many fullfiling memories and a place that I love dearly.  I could tell it was a farewell, as my visit felt different that time around.  I wasn't driving up Hwy 50 as Californian anymore, I was flying into Reno as a Chicagoan.  It felt different, which in a way helped me sever the proverbial California cord.

This album has evolved to be a big part of my family life now, whether it's singing and dancing with my daughter to the incredibly brilliant "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey", the infectious "Smile Away", or the oddball "Monkberry Moon Delight" putting on Ram always makes me happy.  It's proven to me that it's not about where you live, but who you're living with, and that you can create your own little oasis with your family in your house, no matter where you live.  That said, every once in a while, I'll listen to "Heart of the Country" and smile, thinking about the possibilities that await me in the future, if I ever decide take that alluring rural plunge someday.  If I do, you can bet Ram will be the soundtrack to that move.

9.2

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