Various Artists

The Art of McCartney

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Roughly timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania, The Art of McCartney is a lavish celebration of all things Paul. Weighing in at three discs and 42 tracks in its grandest incarnation, the set is 34 tracks at its slimmest. In both cases, that's plenty generous but it nevertheless only skims the surface of a very rich, very deep songbook that's developed over the decades. By and large, the featured performers -- mainly McCartney's peers, including his good friend Steve Miller, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Jeff Lynne, Roger Daltrey, and Willie Nelson, but also a handful of younger performers and old pros, too -- stick to both familiar tunes and familiar arrangements, which means The Art of McCartney often gets by on sheer enthusiasm. Certainly, Billy Joel -- who opens up the proceedings with "Maybe I'm Amazed" and later covers "Live and Let Die" -- throws himself into it and his cuts benefit from his full-bore roar, but some of the softer moments are equally nice; in particular, Corinne Bailey Rae slides into "Bluebird" with grace, while Jeff Lynne tackles the homespun "Junk" while resisting his urge to decorate. As with any tribute this size, there are the inevitable stumbles, ranging from a barely notable trip (Brian Wilson rendering "Wanderlust" too ornate, Alice Cooper hamming it up on "Eleanor Rigby," Barry Gibb inadvertently raising the ghost of Sgt. Peppers past with "When I'm Sixty Four") to outright face-plants (Steve Miller is unsuited for "Hey Jude," Harry Connick, Jr. smarms up "My Love," Owl City's rinky-dink plinks render "Listen to What the Man Said" into a weapon of twee irritation). Ultimately, these aren't enough to prevent The Art of McCartney from being fun, particularly because they're overshadowed by moments of real delight: Bob Dylan growling his way through "Things We Said Today," Heart laying into the spooky heart of "Letting Go," Robert Smith embracing the oddness of "C Moon," Kiss camping it up on "Venus and Mars/Rock Show," Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen and, especially, Def Leppard finding the glittering bubblegum heart in "Helen Wheels" followed by Joe Elliott stomping "Hi Hi Hi" into submission." All that can be expected from a generous star-studded tribute like this are a few moments like this, and The Art of McCartney certainly delivers them.

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