Imagine youre traveling somewhere. Anywhere.
You cant sleep. Youve managed to scrounge up enough money to afford a weekend in a nice, five-star hotel. Congratulations. Youve earned it. You dont wear a robe at home, but since the hotel was nice enough to provide you with one, you opt to wear it on your trek to the ice machine down the hall. No matter how nice the hotel room, theres never enough ice. You fill up your ice bucket, careful not to get any on the tiled floor, and make your way back to your room. Maybe your significant other is waiting for you on the other end of the door, but its your imagination, so Ill leave it up to you.
You reach into the pocket of your expensive robe for the keycard with one hand, while holding onto the bucket of ice with the other. You pop the key into the electronic lock, the light goes green, and just as youre about to open the door, you hear music coming from the hotel lobby, located (of course) directly below the indoor balcony on your floor. Theres the twinkling notes of a piano, the unmistakable sounds of an upright bass, and, oh yeah, Sir Paul McCartney singing Im Gonna Sit Write Down and Write Myself a Letter.
What the what? you rightfully ask, with no one but Macca and the desk clerk to hear you. Its no big deal; theyve been hearing it all night. Paul McCartney? With Dianna Krall, a.k.a. Mrs. Elvis Costello, on piano? Playing pop standards? Not being terrible?
Thats right, McCartney answers, adjusting his bow tie. Ive been here in this hotel playing songs from my new record, Kisses on the Bottom. I wanted to make an album filled with music I loved growing up, but didnt want it compared to Rod Stewarts Great American Songbook series, or even Ringos Sentimental Journey from 1970. I figured the best way to go about doing that was to get together with legendary producer Tommy LiPuma, who has worked with everyone from Barbara Streisand to George Benson.
LiPuma worked on Bensons Breezin record, right? you ask, though you already know youre right. Breezin and Affirmation are stone cold jazz classics. Shit, cat-
Lets not go down that road, McCartney says. Anyway, I was able to get the lovely Dianna Krall here to join in on the recording sessions, along with a couple of Rock N Roll Hall of Famers: Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder.
Tell me you guys remade Ebony and Ivory.
McCartney looks disgusted, and brushes off your hopes and dreams.
The album features two originals. Eric assisted me with his incomparable acoustic skills on ‘My Valentine’, while Stevie played a great harmonica solo on ‘Only Our Hearts’. Would you like to hear them?
Fortunately, McCartney has a portable sound system with him. Hes kind enough to turn it on and play Kisses on the Bottom for you. It is different from the attempts that Stewart and others laid out. There is something very mellow, very laid back on McCartneys version. There are orchestral flourishes here and there, but they never come across as overbearing, nor do they push the record into the dreaded territory known only as schmaltz. The classic Its Only a Paper Moon is brightened by fiddle and acoustic guitar, whereas More I Cannot Wish You proves that Macca can still register as a tenor at the tender age of 69. His rendition of Irving Berlins Always features the albums finest use of orchestra, with the strings entering the picture at the halfway mark. Again, very calm without any forced sweeping moments.
Very good, Sir Paul, you say in a pleasant tone. Surprisingly so.
Well, wait. There are still a few more songs to go, McCartney says, disappointed.
Maybe its a little too long? I mean, did you have to include ‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive’? Havent we heard this song ad nauseum? The same could be said for ‘The Glory of Love’. Dont tell me theyre all classics, I know that. But other classics havent been done to death. I guess thats my chief complaint: it goes on too long.
McCartney shrugs. Not everyones going to like it. A lot of people gave up on the collection the moment they found out the album was titled Kisses on the Bottom. You know, its from ‘Im Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’: I’m gonna write words oh so sweet/They’re gonna knock me off my feet/A lotta kisses on the bottom/I’ll be glad I got ’em.
You laugh, and can only reply, Everyones a critic, Sir Paul. The Internets full of em. But Kisses on the Bottom is a respectable collection from a pop mastermind; a group of songs you can fall in love to, or remember falling in love with. Its nice to get away from the noise every once in a while, and this record does the trick.
You bid him farewell and walk back to your room. You remembered the ice bucket, and on your way back you hear Paul sing his rendition of Home (When Shadows Fall). A pleasant nights sleep will no longer be an issue.
Essential Tracks: Home (When Shadows Fall), Its Only a Paper Moon, and Always
Feature artwork by Virginia McCarthy.