By Jason Savio

Ringo StarrCrooked Boy 

“Fell into a coma then got back up on my feet/A sickly boy that found his own way” sings Ringo Starr on the poignant title track to his EP Crooked Boy. At 83 years old, the former Beatle continues to be a joy to listen to. 

Starr sounds like both a friend and grandfather, offering sage advice and an outlook that you hope you can absorb and apply to your own life. He continues to speak of love and peace (“I speak of love, I speak of peace/It’s what I believe/And what I keep on fighting for,” he sings in the title track), with his everlasting optimism. You can still find that familiar cheerful Beatles jingle in “Adeline,” but Starr doesn’t rely solely on what he knows will do well, as heard on “Gonna Need Someone,” a number that edges closer to a rollicking modern rock approach with a sporadic, distorted guitar. In “Gonna Need Someone” Starr reminds us that no matter how badly you’ve been hurt before or let down, you can’t go it alone: “Hard to feel when you can’t love/Hard to see when you’ve given up/Getting lost like a big black dog.”

At just four songs, the only real negative about Crooked Boy is that it’s short. But in that fleeting time, Starr reminds us that he still has love and peace to spread. 

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The sibling trio of Nashville-based, Australian-bred pop band Sheppard have released their fourth album Zora, a mashup of pop, dance, and a couple heartfelt ballads. You might think a 16-song long album would be a bad idea for a pop group, but siblings George, Amy, and Emma Sheppard provide a good enough mix that makes Zora an interesting listen from start to finish.

There are a number of sunshine pop songs on Zora: big, processed drumbeats bouncing behind cheerful melodies and catchy, optimistic choruses (“Love will keep us from giving up,” sings George in “Got to be Love”). While no doubt cheerful, they do often border on heavily produced cookie-cutter fare that will make their way to the radio, which is the obvious goal here. But instead of doing just that and being content, Sheppard spices up the album with songs that stretch away from that safe territory. 

“Edge of the Earth,” is a standout with its pulsing 80’s synth beath and more rock-oriented approach, while “Dancing on the Sun” allows some space to Emma Sheppard on bass, highlighting her rolling, funky rhythm. George sings the majority of the songs, but Amy Sheppard offers her lead vocals as well—her song “Respect” is an infectious dance number. The Sheppards strip it down, too, for “Nothing Without You,” a song about how you can have seemingly everything, but it means nothing if you don’t have that person to share it with. 

It could be easy to label Sheppard as another fly-by-night pop group, but there are enough signs and effort here to support the contrary. Zora is easily accessible yet not as thin as you may first suspect.  

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