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Ringo Starr, Liam Finn have new CDs

Also, new releases from the Eels, Zucchero and Marvin Gaye
/ Source: Billboard

Ringo Starr, “Liverpool 8”Most pop music fans think they know Ringo Starr. And musically, it’s probably true. The fun-loving Beatle, now 67, is still full of nostalgia for the good ol’ days, and his humble appreciation for life and simple tunes is abundant on “Liverpool 8.” You’re not getting anything groundbreaking on a Ringo album. The titular opening track is a sentimental journey through his youth years and later success (“Liverpool, I left you / but I never let you down”), and most of the rest is focused on that evergreen pop-song fodder: love. “Tuff Love,” “Love Is,” “For Love”; Ringo’s got it all covered. But while his talent as a lyricist may leave something to be desired, you can’t fault the guy for his dedication to putting a smile on the listener’s face.

Liam Finn, “I’ll Be Lightning”After releasing a pair of albums as frontman of quirky New Zealand pop/rock act Betchadupa, Liam Finn steps out on his own with this self-produced solo debut. Here, he comes closer to the work of home-studio eccentrics like Beck than to the classically minded pop of his father, Crowded House frontman Neil. That’s not to say that melody isn’t important to Finn the Younger. Each one of these 14 tunes harbors handsome hooks that point to a childhood spent obsessing over Dad’s Beatles and Beach Boys (and Crowded House) records. But Liam’s just as fascinated by texture, so he tricks out his material here with bits of white-noise guitar fuzz, ghost-choir backing vocals and percussion that sounds like someone drumming his fingers on a dashboard. “I’ll Be Lightning” is a low-key charmer.

Eels, “Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased 1996-2006”Few acts have morphed more often than Mark Oliver Everett’s Eels. From the group’s earliest work with the Dust Brothers more than a decade ago through to recent acoustic singer/songwriter forays, the Eels are ever changing. All of which makes “Useless Trinkets: B-Side, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased 1996-2006” an eclectic and difficult, but ultimately rewarding experience. Among the album’s 50 (!) tracks are examples of the Eels’ best work, including “Altar Boy” and “Jennifer Eccles,” which provide moments of splendid, sparse beauty. And while others, like the Moog Cookbook remix of “Novocaine,” would be better off unheard, a vast majority of the album demonstrates incredible range and E’s often solemn, but singular songwriting. It’s not the best introduction for those unfamiliar with the band’s expansive catalog, but “Useless Trinkets” is proof that most acts would kill for the songs the Eels deposit as B-sides.

Zucchero, “All the Best”While his by turns mournful and bombastic collaborations with Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker and Luciano Pavarotti might be this Italian star’s most obvious tickets to an American audience, they’re hardly the catchiest cuts on this economically culled, two-decade-spanning sampler. Where he really excels is with studio-pumped and gruffly passionate sort of middle-aged-lothario dance-rock — exemplified here by “Diavolo in Me” and the electronically buzzing boogie-woogie “Amen,” which might remind U.S. listeners of Robert Palmer in the ’80s. “Baila (Sexy Thing)” and “Un Kilo,” meanwhile, give Caribbean rhythms a tough, funky kick. And though he’s susceptible to drowning his more anguished ballads in schmaltz, hand Zucchero an anthemic melody and his mall-blues longing can rival prime Jon Secada or Lou Gramm. Prettiest slow one: the pairing with Vanessa Carlton for a remake of “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime,” an almost proto-emo 1980 hit for forgotten new wavers Korgis.

Marvin Gaye, “Here, My Dear”Marvin Gaye’s most misunderstood album was a bittersweet venting about his divorce from wife Anna, the sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy. The 1978 record settled scores and ended his contract, humiliated his ex, was widely ignored by the public and buried, some say, by the label. Listened to with a bright new digital presence, it’s quite a beautiful and seductive effort: a seamless romantic symphony that blends doo-wop, funk, sweet soul music and smooth jazz behind acidic, sad, sometimes rambling lyrics. (Don’t miss the mood elevator, the brilliant nine-minute “A Funky Space Reincarnation” on which Gaye touts the effects of weed from planet Venus.) A second disc of restrained new mixes by a roster that ranges from Easy Mo Bee to Marcus Miller to Prince Paul neither improves upon nor depreciates the original Gaye recordings. No harm, no foul, but the original disc is the focus, as it should be.