McCartney turns 70 this year… he could have fooled me. Maybe it’s because his hair is still (dyed?) and he still fits into his slim cool suits, but he doesn’t seem that old. Many saw him play the Grammys earlier this year where he belted the ending of “Hey Jude” with as much energy as he did when the song was first recorded. Paul’s still got it, but he’s very different on Kisses on the Bottom. No rocking, no rolling, no growling, nothing that will take you above a resting heart rate.
Kisses is a collection of 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s standards that McCartney has known since childhood — his father was a former big band member. From McCartney’s tunes such as “Your Mother Should Know” and “Martha My Dear” (and of course the “woke up, got out of bed” part in “A Day in the Life”), it’s clear that this musical era influenced his songwriting. McCartney has great reverence for these classics and he does them proud on Kisses, which on the whole is a very charming album. It’s produced by Tommy LiPuma and arranged by Alan Broadbent and Diana Krall (who also plays piano on it). The record feels relaxed and effortless, matching the tenor of the songs selected for the album.
Kicking off the CD is “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter”. Hitting play just made me grin with nostalgia. Listen to McCartney deliver the 1940s tune “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” and it’s easy to imagine him soft shoeing his way through a song-and-dance routine. He even twists his voice on “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” into a nasal whine that very much resembles the one belonging to the song’s original singer, Fats Waller. The elderly creak is beginning to become apparent in McCartney’s voice. It’s faint, but it’s there.
There are two McCartney originals on the album, “Valentine” and “Only Our Hearts.” The former is a sparse love song featuring Eric Clapton on finger-picked guitar, while the latter’s orchestral arrangement sounds exactly like something that might have been played on your grandfather’s favorite radio station. They highlight just how fully he has embraced this musical mode — and why we might not get another “Maybe I’m Amazed” any time soon. My 16 year old, Josiah, has been playing “Valentine” non-stop for over a week. Somehow Paul was able to touch something romantic that traverses the generations.
Kisses on the Bottom is for listeners who appreciate great songwriting blended with velvet smooth performances by some seriously skilled instrumentalists.