If you already know Paul and Linda McCartney's "Ram," you probably don't need to be convinced that it's a classic album. Critically panned when it was first released, because the songs seemed "domestic" rather than the obviously stance-taking ones expected of an ex-Beatle, "Ram" has proved its value over time. The songs are varied, richly melodic, and much more meaningful than they were given credit for being in 1971. It's great to see "Ram" getting the love it deserves, with recent covers of the whole album being brought out by both New Jersey radio station WFMU and a collective of Los Angeles musicians ("Ram on LA"). "The Ram Project" is the first time the whole album has been redone by one musician, and it's amazing how well Dave Depper pulls it off.
It's appropriate that Depper went back to "Ram" for inspiration when he was feeling low, because the album was born out of Paul McCartney's own efforts to find his way after the Beatles' breakup. In an interview for "Wilamette Week," Depper answers the question of why he chose the album this way: "Well, at the time I felt like I just discovered this big secret--that Paul McCartney actually did a bunch of badass stuff, and I had spent my whole life trash-talking him. So it felt like a debt of honor to this guy to bring this to light. Not that Paul McCartney needs my help...but I wanted to celebrate this amazing record. And it was a technically appealing thing for me to do." Depper's covers stay close to McCartney's, so if you're looking for significant changes to the originals, you'll be disappointed. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to hear these familiar songs anew, so it wasn't a problem for me.
Depper creditably performs all the album's songs, which is a feat considering the range of moods and musical arrangements covered. He captures the venom of "Too Many People," the defiant exuberance of "Smile Away," the daffiness of "Monkberry Moon Delight," and the soaring delight of "The Backseat of My Car." I was especially impressed by the way he handles the shifts of tempo and mood in "Long-Haired Lady" and "Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey." "The Ram Project" is a delight to listen to all the way through, which is the highest praise I can bestow on a cover album. For its genre, it deserves five stars. (Joan Hiller, who sings background vocals on the album and is the only other musician on it, also deserves credit for her spot-on harmonies.)
I'd never heard of Dave Depper before this album, but I will definitely be checking him out now. I'll also be going back to relisten to "Ram," because as good as "The Ram Project" is, it deepened my appreciation of the original. McCartney's vocals and playing on "Ram" are, in Depper's words, "badass." Kudos to Dave Depper for doing this!