Oh my…

So… I’ve been a little worried ever since I heard this album was in the works. It’s not that I EXPECTED it to be bad or for Paul to struggle, but my experience with Rock genre crossovers has not been a good one for the most part.

(Heavy sigh) … sadly Kisses On the Bottom does not disabuse my cringing perspective of many/most rock artist attempts to ply the Great American Songbook.

Let me be clear here … this record doesn’t suck. Paul does a good job on a small passel of tracks — even great on a couple, and Concord Records deliveres yet another excellently produced LP. The music is wonderfully arranged and beautifully rendered by an awesome all-star cast, but in the end…

…it’s a disappointment.

What is it with super star rock artists and their haltingly poor attempts to sing the standards? There are some good ones to be sure … folks like Sting, and Boz Scaggs and even Sheryl Crow surprised the hell out of me on Tony Bennett’s most recent Duets album. But listening to Harry Nilsson wallow through Schmilsson in the Night just makes me cringe. Even deity class stars like Elton John really just don’t pull it off.

I was a massive fan of Nilsson and Elton back in the day … pretty much own everything they did in the 70’s, 80’s and into the 90’s. But they are object lessons that huge success in one genre does not underpin like success in another; and sadly I think Paul’s attempt with Kisses On The Bottom  pretty much lands in that realm as well.

Coachella Music and Arts Festival 2009

There is some good news…

Before the McCartney acolytes gather to do unspeakable things to me for casting dispersions on Paul, there are some nice songs on the track list and a couple that really stand tall. Let’s take a look at the good stuff.

The Fat’s Waller signature number — “I’m Going To Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter” — is nicely done and houses the “kisses on the bottom” title lyric. Paul’s lilting intonation fits this nicely arranged rendition. Krall crawls all over this number (the whole album really) with her tight and distinctive jazz piano … John Pizzarelli drives the rhythm.

Diana’s Live in Paris bandmates gather for “The Glory Of Love”. John Clayton’s bass leads Paul into this — one of my favorite songs on the the LP. Jeff Hamilton snares a simple trio beat through out while Anthony Wilson’s jazz guitar stylings buttress the intermezzo. This number rises to the creme level on the back of it’s classic Songbook heritage, but also because Paul’s vocals lose the breathy, whispering affectation that I found unpalatable on several of the other tracks. PMc just seemed more vocally comfortable here.

The next three tracks come off pretty well…

“We Three (My Echo, My Shadow And Me)” is a great song selection for Paul. Again, his vocal style lies comfortably in amongst the wonderful Johnny Mandel string charts, Diana’s piano and both Pizzarelli guitars.

Mercer’s “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” is semi classically rendered with McCartney’s distinctive style displayed in full measure … his grim-north British accent playfully converting “Jonah” and “Noah” into “Joner” and “No-er” … fun stuff!

Paul rolls out a standards styled original song “My Valentine” and is joined by Eric Clapton on guitar (did I mentioned all-star cast?!). This is a very nice romantic ballad that lays well for Paul as you might imagine.

And Maybe the best of all…

Clapton on guitar and the London Symphony Orchestra plying Alan Broadbent’s fabulous arrangements lay the foundation for what I think is the best track on the album — “Get Yourself Another Fool”. Paul’s voice runs on top, clean and clear in this blues inspired tragic love song. The myriad of fabulous musicians, the orchestra and PMc meld into a wonderful whole. This is a great song.

The musicians can’t be oversold on this LP. Even the songs that I didn’t relish from a vocal standpoint are masterfully rendered by some of the absolute best musical talent on the planet and you can clearly hear them in this beautiful Tony LiPuma production.

I came close to not writing this review…

…for not wanting to speak ill of the gods, and certainly Paul is deservingly exalted for his success and talent.

I would argue Frank Sinatra sits at the apex of the artist success ladder, but if there’s anyone that comes close to matching Sinatra’s success and impact on music and the entertainment arena, it may indeed be Paul McCartney. But that achievement came as a rock/pop artist and it doesn’t curry sway for PMc as a standards singer.

By the way, it cuts both ways … I didn’t really cotton to Frank’s attempts to sing disco/pop/rock numbers late in his career, and I never took to Bobby Darin’s foray into folk music. Bobby and Frank were exploratory souls and some of their ventures worked and some did not … that’s just the way of the world.

Net/net, at the end of the day…

Kisses On the Bottom is not my cup of tea. There are some good numbers … even a couple of great one’s but too few (my track list ratings below) to get me across the line for an LP recommendation.

We may not agree, and judging from the critical reviews out there, I’m clearly in the minority with this one. But, that’s what makes the world go ’round. Give it a listen on iTunes (where you can actually hear enough of the song to make an informed decision) and go from there.

Now if I can just stay ahead of those angry acolytes and lightning bolts! 😉

Kisses On The Bottom Track List…

(VS_Guy ratings: “+++” pluses are good; “~” for meh to middling;  “- – -” minuses are not good)

1. I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter + (won’t make you forget Dean Martin but a nice version)
2. Home [When Shadows Fall] ~ (Not a good selection up against PMc’s vocal style)
3. It’s Only A Paper Moon – (flat on the vocals and an off-putting fiddle sequence … nice compliment of Pizzarellis though!)
4. More I Cannot Wish You –
5. The Glory Of Love ++ (the first and best from a nice run through the middle of the track list)
6. We Three [My Echo, My Shadow And Me] +
7. Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive +
8. My Valentine ++
9. Always~
10. My Very Good Friend The Milkman —
11. Bye Bye Blackbird –
12. Get Yourself Another Fool +++ (my favorite both vocally and musically … jazzy blues and well done)
13. The Inch Worm – (I don’t care for this song in general … this version does not pull it out of the ashes)
14. Only Our Hearts + (Nice Nelson Riddle-ish arrangements get +++ on this PMc original)
15. Baby’s Request (Bonus Track) ~ (Krall’s piano and Bucky’s guitar get high marks and a lovely trombone strolls by)
16. My One And Only Love (Bonus track) ~ (sigh … such a great song; wonderful Broadbent arrangements; vocals don’t deliver)




  • For the songs that didn’t work for you on this CD, can you suggest another interpretation worth an iTunes download?

    • vs_guy

      First, let me say that I’m “all in” on artists interpreting/reinterpreting the classics … that’s where the real listening fun comes from and has been fundamental to the genre’s growth since the 30’s. I love guys like John Pizzarelli, Bobby Caldwell and Peter Cincotti that turn out some really interesting retooled classics.

      More directly to your question … though it’s Fats Waller’s signature song, I like Dean Martin’s “I’m Going To Sit Right Down…”; “Paper Moon” has a lot of practitioners but Nat Cole does it best for me; likewise there are scads of great versions of “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” (Ella, Joe Williams, Nat …) but I don’t think you can do better than the guy that wrote the lyrics — Johnny Mercer. Finally let me offer both classic and new/crossover recommendations for “My One And Only Love” … Dean Martin and Sting(!) respectively.

      Thanks for the interesting comments Douglas!