For Paul McCartney, Driving Rain completes the trilogy he began with Flaming Pie, in retrospect a warm tribute to his dying wife, and continued through the storming rock & roll of Run Devil Run. The first found Macca writing some of his most affecting songs while he returned to his musical standbys -- charming folk, layered pop, and amiable rock & roll. Then, with Run Devil Run, he retreated even further, finding his love for piledriving, uncompromising rock & roll. With those two extremes, he covered the bases with everything except one important thing -- he had yet to reclaim his art pop inclinations, something he does so subtly on Driving Rain. In a sense, it's a nice blend of the self-conscious Flowers in the Dirt and the organic, natural Flaming Pie, combining the craft of the former with the attitude of the latter. As such, it sounds fresh, particularly because McCartney has teamed up with young producers and backing bands that don't just allow him to follow his muse, they're eager to chase him when he extends a song to an abnormal length with a jam. This is not the homemade charm of Ram, nor the post-Abbey Road studio trickery of Red Rose Speedway or Band on the Run, but instead a seasoned professional finding a way to fuse his various influences in a record that is as proud of its melody as it is of its elasticity. As such, it's more self-conscious than its immediate predecessor and it's a little indulgent, but in a good way. When McCartney decides to indulge himself here, it's not with whimsy but with sheer musical muscle. As the record draws to a conclusion, he hauls out a bunch of inventive, winding jams that may be a little excessive, yet they're exciting because he hasn't tried something like this in years. He's grooving on making music again, just like he did on Flaming Pie and Run Devil Run. Driving Rain may not be as coherent as Pie, nor as relentless as Devil, but it's rich, layered, ambitious, and successful. Since becoming a solo artist, Paul McCartney has never delivered three records in a row so overstuffed with imagination, melody, and enthusiasm as he has in these three albums. Let's hope he can keep the streak going next time around.