RedEye

Album review: Paul McCartney, 'Kisses on the Bottom'

2 stars (out of 4)

On his first album since 2007, “Kisses on the Bottom” (Hear Music), Paul McCartney tosses his dinner jacket over his shoulder and takes a casual stroll down Tin Pan Alley, revisiting songs his father used to play on the family’s piano in ‘40s and ‘50s England.

The tunes are classic American songbook fare written by the greats – Frank Loesser, Fats Waller, Harold Arlen – and once were the core of countless classic jazz albums by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra. In the rock era, they’ve resurfaced on career revival albums by desperate types such as Rod Stewart and McCartney’s old pal, Ringo Starr, whose “Sentimental Journey” was recorded to please his mum in 1970.

Now McCartney’s stab at the nostalgia market is framed as a Valentine’s Day gift to his new wife, Nancy Shevell, though it otherwise arrives at an odd juncture. The ex-Beatles bassist has been on a late-career roll, releasing a string of albums that rank with his best solo work and playing long, satisfying concerts. In many ways he’s been rocking with greater purpose than he has in decades. So this slow-dance with the misty past can’t help but feel like a letdown.

In aiming to make an easy-listening mood album, McCartney hired pros who know their way around the lounge: jazz pianist Diana Krall and her band, plus veteran producer Tommy LiPuma, who has worked with Miles Davis, Barbra Streisand and Natalie Cole, among others. The singer approaches these songs from a respectful distance, recording them in period style with brushed drums, upright bass, drizzles of piano, cushy strings. Indeed, the influence of vaudeville and ragtime songwriting on his work has been apparent for decades (consider the Beatles’ "When I'm Sixty-Four,"  “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and “Honey Pie” for starters). 

These songs are meant to swing, but McCartney lets them plod. His take on "Bye Bye Blackbird" is so deliberate it nearly stalls. Many of these standards sound slightly out of his range, and his voice strains even though he’s singing at barely-above-a-whisper volume. Things improve when McCartney slips on his top-hat and cane to soft-shoe through Waller’s "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter."

He sounds most at home on “My Valentine,” one of two originals on the album, and the tune that best suits his vocal range. With Eric Clapton embroidering nearly every line with acoustic guitar fills, McCartney finds the casual authority he never quite grasps anywhere else on the album.

greg@gregkot.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Concert review: Paul McCartney at Wrigley Field

    Concert review: Paul McCartney at Wrigley Field

    Paul McCartney could not just let it be Sunday in the first of two concerts at Wrigley Field. He played for nearly three hours and broke into a James Brown-worthy sweat, wringing new rivers of passion from songs he’s played hundreds of times.

  • Best music recordings of 2011

    Best music recordings of 2011

    Tribune music critics Greg Kot (pop/rock), Howard Reich (jazz) and John Von Rhein (classical) weigh in on their picks of the best recordings in 2011.

  • Best concerts of 2011

    Best concerts of 2011

    Here are Tribune music critic Greg Kot's favorite concerts from 2011:

  • Lollapalooza style portraits

    Lollapalooza style portraits

    Concertgoers pose at the three-day fest in Grant Park.

  • Lolla day 2: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    Lolla day 2: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    And just like that, there’s only one day left of Lolla. Here’s what stood out to us from day 2. Best: The Tallest Man on Earth: Maybe it was just a right-mood, right-set situation, but boy this was the perfect mid-day act to take a breather, sit in the sun, and just chill and listen to and enjoy....

  • 50 Cent at Parliament and Wyclef Jean at The Underground

    50 Cent at Parliament and Wyclef Jean at The Underground

    Shots in The Dark at Parliament Nightclub with 50 Cent and The Underground Nightclub with Wyclef Jean and Joey Fatone July 31st

  • Lolla day 1: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    Lolla day 1: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    One day down! Here’s the best and worst we saw at Lolla on Friday, plus a few superlatives from day 1. Best: Anyone who knows me knows I was bound to pick Paul McCartney as my favorite act of the day. The Beatle came out and gave it his all with more than two hours of hits, tributes and jokes about...

  • Lolla day 1: Let's just rename it Paul-apalooza

    Lolla day 1: Let's just rename it Paul-apalooza

    What can you really say about Sir Paul McCartney, the former Beatle, pop music pioneer, worldwide cultural icon, and all-around great guy, that hasn't already been said? I mean, seriously. With the Beatles changing music for the better, becoming a pop culture institution and being "more popular...

Comments
Loading
88°