Paul McCartney, "McCartney III" (Capitol)
This is the third in a trilogy of records on which McCartney plays all the instruments and handles all the vocals. "McCartney," his first solo record from 1970, signaled the breakup of the Beatles, and "McCartney II" followed in 1980.
"Seize the Day" is the standout with the most Beatles-esque groove as Sir Paul offers some inspiration at the end of a bleak year. The unreleased 1990s track "Winter Bird/When Winter Comes" is a refreshingly simple, and simply delightful, take on farm life that could have easily fit on 1971's "Ram." McCartney even still hits the high register on the charming "Kiss of Venus."
McCartney also gives us the unfortunately titled "Lavatory Lil," which has a nice hooky groove and a fun vibe. This is no "Lovely Rita" or "Polythene Pam." Then there's "Deep Down" with the 78-year-old McCartney fantasizing about partying all night long. And the eight-minute-plus "Deep Deep Feeling" could have used a deep, deep edit. "McCartney III" is a record that grows on you with repeated listens.
Scott Bauer, Associated Press
Elton John, "Jewel Box" (EMI)
Clocking in at a whopping nine hours and 58 minutes, this super-deluxe set was personally curated by Sir Elton, designed for dedicated fans, not casual listeners. No fewer than 65 of the 148 songs on this eight-CD set are released here for the first time, including a panoply of demo recordings John made between 1965 and '71. He mixes these with a generous assortment of solo hits, deep album cuts and two discs of B-sides from his many singles.
"Scarecrow," from 1967, is the first song John and lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote together. Selections from an abandoned album project, "Regimental Sgt. Zippo," indicate just how influenced John and Taupin were by the Beatles during that band's most psychedelic period. Other pieces, such as the zippy "Sing Me No Sad Songs" and the baroque ballad "Tartan Coloured Lady," find John confidently working through different musical phases as he finds and hones his musical identity.
George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune
• Steve Earle & the Dukes, "J.T."