Paul McCartney demonstrated his continued mastery of rock concert staging in 2011, even winning over sniping critics with career-spanning performances, including two hot summer nights at Wrigley Field.
His first release of 2012 (scheduled for February), Kisses on the Bottom, takes a dramatically different turn, an affectionate journey back to some of the music he enjoyed in his formative years. Rooted more in Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald than in Buddy Holly and Little Richard. With that premise, you can practically hear the critical sabers being drawn in anticipation.
You can also hear bits of it yourself already, with some Internet searching. The official Paul McCartney website provided a sneak preview of one of the two original numbers (“My Valentine”). Then pop news sites listed the reported contents, followed by Amazon taking advance orders. There have been unofficial streams of multiple tracks and even the entire disc.
First impressions? Although there are a few well-established numbers (“Always”; “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate-the Positive”), these are clearly first-and-foremost close-to-the-heart favorites. For example, when McCartney produced the first Mary Hopkin album (Postcard in 1969), he selected as one of her numbers the obscure “Inch Worm” by Frank Loesser. Now it’s part of his recorded repertoire.
This is the side of Paul McCartney that loves a good song no matter what the source – who chose “Till There Was You” (from The Music Man) for the first Ed Sullivan Show and the 1963 Royal Variety performance. On this collection, he gives the same careful reading and respect for lyrics that you’d find with Ella Fitzgerald in her Songbook series. His taking the role of singer-only evokes Frank Sinatra at his best.
It is tempting to compare this with Ringo Starr’s 1970 collection of growing up favorites, Sentimental Journey, especially since both share one song (“Bye Bye Blackbird”) and Paul arranged “Stardust” for that long-ago effort.
But Sentimental Journey was a scattershot of multiple producers and arrangers with a seeming preference for the upbeat and brassy.
This is anything but. Before hearing a note, I’d been anticipating a comparison to the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook collections or to Frank Sinatra’s Capitol output.
And to Elvis Costello. No, not because he’s the spouse of Diana Krall (whose band provides the instrumental support for these sessions; McCartney plays no instruments).
Rather, having now listened to multiple tracks, I’d definitely recommend Elvis Costello’s 2003 North as the perfect warm-up for McCartney’s approach.
North was Costello’s “Sinatra the Saloon singer” collection. A consistently executed mood piece. At first I missed the rocking riffs. Now it is one of my favorite Costello CDs.
Here, McCartney is much more North than Ring-A-Ding! Relaxed. Low-key.
This is almost like visiting Paul McCartney as he rummages through his personal music collection, pausing repeatedly to say: Have you ever heard this one? It goes like this.
Rockers will come later. This one is from the soft side of the heart.
1. “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”
2. “Home (When Shadows Fall)”
3. “It’s Only a Paper Moon”
4. “More I Cannot Wish You”
5. “The Glory of Love”
6. “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)”
7. “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”
8. “My Valentine” (Paul McCartney composition)
10. “My Very Good Friend the Milkman”
11. “Bye Bye Blackbird”
12. “Get Yourself Another Fool”
13. “The Inch Worm”
14. “Only Our Hearts” (Paul McCartney composition)
Copyright ©2012 Walter J. Podrazik
The older I get, the more I realize that a great lyric and a great melody are simply great, regardless of the musical genre.
Speaking of “Till There Was You,” I read recently (maybe you’ve known this forever) that Sir Paul’s company owns rights to the entire catalog of the Music Man himself, Meredith Willson. And Willson’s estate reportedly has earned more royalties from The Beatles’ recording of “Till There Was You” than all of Willson’s other work combined.