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Review: Paul McCartney, "Kisses on the Bottom"

Paul takes on the Great American Songbook for Valentine's Day

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Review: Paul McCartney,

Paul McCartney's "Kisses on the Bottom"

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Paul McCartney reportedly already has a new album of studio originals ready to go in 2012, but he's often done things on the spur of the moment, so when he wrote a new song called "My Valentine" for his new wife, Nancy Shevell, he decided to create a whole album of classic jazz-pop covers in the same vein. To do so, he enlisted the backup band of prominent jazz vocalist Diana Krall and recorded with producer Tommy LiPuma, forgoing instrumentation of his own and limiting himself mostly to the vocal booth. The result sets the perfect mood, but is it an artistic triumph, an attempt at cashing in on the new trend among musical dinosaurs, or something inbetween?

About this album

  • Release date: February 7, 2012
  • Label: Hear Music
  • Catalog number: 33669
  • Musicians: Paul McCartney: lead vocals, acoustic guitar
    Diana Krall, Tamir Hendelman: piano
    John Pizzarelli, Bucky Pizzarelli, Anthony Wilson, John Chiodini: guitars
    Robert Hurst, John Clayton, Christian McBride, Chuck Berghoffer: bass
    Karriem Riggins, Jeff Hamilton, Vinnie Colaiuta: drums
    Mike Mainieri: vibes
    Ira Nepus: trombone
    Chloe Arzy, Evyn Johnson, Makiah Johnson, Michael Johnson, Delany Meyer, Ilsey Moon, Sabrina Walden, Sasha Walden: backing vocals
    London Symphony Orchestra: orchestra
    Stevie Wonder: harmonica ("Only Our Hearts")
    Eric Clapton: lead guitar ("My Valentine")
  • Produced, arranged, and mixed by Tommy LiPuma
  • Engineered by Al Schmitt
  • Art direction: Jonathan Schofield
  • Artwork: Matthew Cooper
  • Photographs: Mary McCartney

Pros

  • Taste is not always a given with McCartney, but recording with this band and producer was the perfect idea.
  • Paul's gift for melody and warmth makes this a pretty good fit, at least in theory.

Cons

  • Paul's never been a jazz singer, and his voice seems to be getting rough around the edges as he approaches his 70th.
  • The two new songs are, go figure, a mixed bag.
  • His song selection is as emotionally skin-deep as some of his solo originals, and he hasn't really done anything with them.

My review

On the surface, Paul McCartney's decision to revisit the Great American Songbook makes a lot more sense than, say, Rod Stewart's. Even though Rod the Mod went to the well a staggering five times with his recent collections of romantic big-band vocal standards, it's not as if it's part of his musical heritage. Paul always idolized the stylish melodic romanticism of postwar pop, and it's a thread that runs through his entire musical career -- from writing "When I'm Sixty-Four" as a teenager to recasting his entire "Ram" album as trad-jazz foxtrots under the pseudonym Percy Thrillington to writing a song for Frank Sinatra called "Suicide" (rejected by Old Blue Eyes and never officially released). Even his disco move with 1979's hit "Goodnight Tonight" emphasized the genre's elegance over its decadence.

So it's not surprising that he's finally delivered a full album of romantic vocal standards, and, because he never misses a trick, doing so just in time for Valentine's Day. How much you enjoy "Kisses on the Bottom" -- and don't think he doesn't know the naughty pun he's making by taking Fats Waller's words out of context -- depends on whether you like Sir Paul for his tender or his experimental side. Focus has always been one of Macca's weak points, but here it he does it right, settling in with Diana Krall's band and recording these dozen tracks simply and sparely. Not only does he not gild this particular lily, he adds two new tracks of his own in the same exact vein: "My Valentine" and "Only Our Hearts."

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