Long before becoming a Beatle, Paul McCartney was exposed to the pop songs of the '30s and '40s through the strong influence of his father James, who played mostly ragtime jazz in the Jim Mac Jazz Band in the '20s. McCartney's father also would play the pop songs of the last 10 to 20 years at home with young Paul and the family gathered around the piano.
Those tunes never left McCartney and it was through them that he learned how to structure a pop song, how to sing harmonies and how to move the listener. His career is dotted with examples of his fondness of the standard and that style: "Till There Was You," "Honey Pie," "You Gave Me the Answer," "A Room with a View" and "The Very Thought of You." This album has been on his mind for a very long time.
Including the bonus tracks found on deluxe versions of the CD, released February 7 on the Hear Music label (jointly formed by Concord Music and Starbucks), there are 14 tracks; all are standards save for three McCartney-penned numbers (two new, one from 1979) written with the feel and style of the others. The songs hang together well -- stylishly, instrumentally and lyrically.
Lyrically these songs are born out of an era when pop music was meant to lift the spirits. America had been through the Great Depression, then WWII. In Liverpool in 1942 Paul McCartney was born when the scars of the German bombing were still clearly visible throughout the urban landscape.
It's safe to say that the main subject on "Kisses on the Bottom" is love; safe to say, silly love songs. They range from cutesy:
Yes, it's only a canvas sky
Hanging over a muslin tree
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me
Without your love
It's a honky-tonk parade
Without your love It's a melody played in a penny arcade
You said that you love me
I was yours to command
But your kind of love
My heart couldn't stand/Use me for a tool
Get yourself another fool
and from cloying:
As long as there's the two of us
We've got the world and all its charms
And when the world is through with us
We've got each other's arms
Music, I can wish you
Merry music while you're young
And wisdom, when your hair has turned to gray
But more I cannot wish you
Then to wish you find your love
Your own true love this day.
Yet overall, charming best describes them. McCartney accomplished this tone with the assistance of Diana Krall and her band. They provide a consistent, cohesive backing from top to finish. Eric Clapton plays on two tracks and is remarkably tasteful and concise. Also along for the ride is the ebony to McCartney's ivory, Stevie Wonder, who adds his unmistakable harmonica to one track.
McCartney only has to concern himself with singing. Never does he touch an instrument. He uses his voice differently. No longer the crystal-clear voice of "Let It Be," "Maybe I'm Amazed" or "No More Lonely Nights," that voice has become a bit coarser over the decades, which adds to its character. It serves the songs well by keeping the sentiment from growing too sweet. McCartney's delivery is restrained to say the least, like he's pulling his best girl close to melt her heart in front of a crackling fire. On the other end of the spectrum, he is on a stool, intimately crooning to a sparse crowd in a small darkened club.
The song selection is balanced between the familiar -- "It's Only a Paper Moon," "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," "The Inch Worm" and "Bye Bye Blackbird" -- to the lesser known songs like "Home (When Shadows Fall)," "More I Cannot Wish You" and "My Very Good Friend the Milkman."
Standards albums by their nature are tricky for rock 'n' rollers -- Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Brian Wilson, Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart, just for starter -- and can get a bad rap, often deservedly so. Success seems to be determined by the artist's ability to connect with and convey the emotion of the songs without veering into mawkishness.
Paul McCartney knows how to write love songs, silly or not, and he knows how to sing them. Nothing wrong with that.