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11 L.A. artists honor Paul McCartney's 'Ram'

March 18, 2009 |  5:22 pm

Justin Gage would have cringed at the critical catcalls that greeted Paul McCartney's second solo album, "Ram," when it was released in 1971 -- that is if he'd been alive. Gage, 33, discovered the album through his Beatles-obsessed father's record collection and was puzzled at the notion that it was labeled as "irrelevant" and "lightweight" when it was originally issued.

"It's beautiful. I think it was his last great moment before going off to do the Wings thing," said Gage, who helms the popular L.A. blog Aquarium Drunkard and its spinoff label, Autumn Tones Records. "In the past year or so, I kept hearing it turn up on turntables at house parties...  People were talking about it, and a lot of artists I knew seemed to be fans of it."

Harnessing that groundswell of interest, Gage assembled "Ram on L.A.," which features a track-by-track tour through "Ram" by 11 L.A. indie rockers, including Earlimart, Radar Bros., Amnion, the Parson Redheads and Bodies of Water. It's available for free download at Gage's website, but patrons are asked to make a donation to McCartney's favorite charity, No More Landmines.

"Ram on L.A." emerged about the same time as an album titled "Tom," a track-by-track cover project featuring the likes of Aimee Mann, Death Cab for Cutie and Ted Leo. It was the brainchild of (and named for) radio host Tom Scharpling of New Jersey's WFMU-FM, which offered the collection as a premium during its pledge drive.

Why the resurgence of interest in McCartney?

"It just seems like in the past couple years he's had a higher profile," said Earlimart's Aaron Espinoza, who covers "Too Many People" on "Ram on L.A." "He makes an album [2005's 'Chaos and Creation in the Backyard'] with Nigel Godrich, and here he plays Amoeba and now Coachella. He just seems invigorated."

McCartney's old music is not lacking for vigor either, as it turns out. "The material is not as easy as it sounds," Espinoza said. "It seems like a simple pop song, but it's McCartney. Some of those chord changes are weird."

Amnion's Aaron Embry found the same challenge but jumped at Gage's offer to be involved in the project.

"McCartney is the father for all kinds of plagiarism, so it was a really great opportunity to indulge," he said with a laugh, explaining his psychedelic twist on "Long Haired Lady." "I did have trouble with a couple of the lyrics . . . so Amnion switched them around a little bit. I hope Paul doesn't mind."

--Kevin Bronson

Photo of Justin Gage by Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times