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2001: Driving Rain

Driving Rain is Macca's first album in the 21st century. And like the LPs McCartney in 1970 and McCartney II in 1980, Driving Rain marks the beginning of a new era in his career, which, by the way, is about the only resemblance between the albums. What makes Driving Rain special is the band, with whom he is touring already for almost fifteen years. And it all starts with this album.




Video: From a Lover to a Friend (Live)

They haven’t met before, when on February 16, 2001 in Los Angeles the first day of a new series of recording session begins. Shortly before, Producer David Kahne put together a band, including Gabe Dixon on keyboards, Rusty Anderson on guitar and bass and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr .; all of them are session musicians with extensive experience, both in the studio and on stage. Kahne also plays keyboards on a number of tracks. The goal is to record an album with Paul in two weeks time, just like he did it in the early years of the Beatles: In the morning the band get to hear a new song for the first time, and then it’s worked out and recorded on the same day. With this way of working McCartney continues the path he has taken with the two predecessors, Flaming Pie and Run Devil Run; Namely back to basics. McCartney:


We recorded 18 songs in the first two weeks, in February, and then I came back to LA in June and recorded another couple of tracks and mixed the album. So making the whole album from beginning to end has taken about five weeks. That’s still pretty good going, but that is the kind of work rate we’d do in The Beatles.

It's a bit tricky, working with total strangers. David Kahne is the only one he knows, but only for a few weeks. But McCartney and the band hit it off immediately and that’s something you’ll hear very well. The album is recorded live more or less which provides a couple of songs with a spontaneous sound, comparable with albums like Run Devil Run and Wild Life. A good example is About You, not just a hidden gem of Driving Rain, but also one of the best rockers that McCartney has made.

Not all the songs have this same mood. There are also tracks where clearly much more effort has been put in doing overdubs and the final mix, such as in the ballads I Do and Your Loving Flame. These are the only two tracks to which also a string has been added. That in itself is a pleasant change, but on the other side it doesn’t make Driving Rain really a coherent album.
It’s very varied though, as you can expect by McCartney. For example, for the first time in years there’s a new Country-ish song, Your Way. I don’t think much of Country & Western, but McCartney's country is always a pleasure to listen to.

Another gem is Heather. It’s one of these tracks you immediately fall for when you hear it for the first time. At least, I do. It's almost entirely instrumental, Paul at the piano, occasionally humming along with the great melody. Heather is dreamy, a short, 3:47 minutes flight away from reality:

I'm gonna fly to the moon
Check in outta space
Find me a suitable plot
Build myself a place

There I will stay
For a year and a day
Until the cares of my life blow away
And I will dance to a runcible tune
With the queen of my heart

It hasn’t much lyrics. This is all and it only comes at the end. After that, McCartney sings, like a gentle breeze, "Heather." And that is, with the benefit of hindsight, a pity. Sure we never ever will get to hear this song live.





If Driving Rain already has a theme, it’s the end of a mourning period after the passing of Linda four years earlier, and a new start with a new love. One of the songs containing this theme is Back in the Sunshine Again, where the hope for better times is been sung. McCartney repertoire contains hardly any blues songs, but this is one according to the classic blues chords. He wrote it with his son James, who also plays along on guitar and percussion, making Back in the Sunshine even more endearing.

Video: Lonely Road

Lyrically Driving Rain isn’t top level. The 'one two three four five, let's go for a drive' from the title track are lyrics that could have been better. McCartney admits that he has not paid very much attention to the lyrics:
The lyrics on the album are kind of quite simple; there's nothing deeply deep. I'm not trying too hard, I'm just spinning them out, not worried if I've heard a phrase before and just gone for it.

Another example of a song with unfortunate lyrics is Freedom. McCartney wrote it shortly after 9/11. He had witnessed the attacks in New York and with Freedom he wanted to show his support to the Americans. But in particular the line “I will fight, for the right to live in freedom” was given a different interpretation than he had in mind:
I thought it was a great sentiment, and immediately post 9/11, I thought it was the right sentiment. But it got hijacked. And it got a bit of a militaristic meaning attached itself to it, and you found Mr. Bush using that kind of idea rather a lot, in a way I felt altered the meaning of the song.

Video: Freedom (live)

The lyrics are more than compensated by the music. Which is just great. Clearly there is a chemistry between Paul and the band, who managed to propel him to great heights. Just listen to the bass, it’s Paul at his very best. Songs like Tiny Bubble or Magic are not among my favorites, but only for Paul's bass playing they are certainly worth listening to.

One of the other things that began when we were doing ‘Run Devil Run’, was me remembering that mainly I’m a bass player. Talking about the old way the Beatles used to record brought that back to me. So although I’ve played a bit of guitar, a little piano and some drums on this album, I’ve mainly been the bass player in the band. Which again is a good feeling; it’s my place to be the bass player and there’s something satisfying about that. It’s simple; that’s my role – I sing and I play bass.

The chemistry with the band is also heard on Rinse the Raindrops, a raucous, originally thirty minutes jam, on the album shortened back to more than ten minutes. This successful cooperation will ultimately be the new start McCartney is hoping for. Not with a new love, as turned out to be, but with a new band. Rusty Anderson and Abe Laboriel Jr., are supplemented with Brian Ray and Paul 'Wix' Wickens, from Paul's previous nineties live band. A few months after the release of Driving Rain McCartney is going on tour with this foursome, for the first time in nearly a decade. To keep going on, up to the present day.
Altogether Driving Rain is a very solid and varied album, but, remarkably, not very popular. Albums that get bad reviews, still sell well and are popular among fans, it’s something McCartney is well experience with. But an album such as Driving Rain that gets fairly good reviews but sells poorly, that is quite unique. It is the fate of Driving Rain.

André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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