Posted by: gdevi | January 30, 2012

Review: Kisses on the Bottom (2012)

Well, corny as it may sound, I have to say that I like Paul McCartney’s new release of songs from the American Song Book. Right after I finished teaching, I listened to the entire album available at the Guardian site; the Great American Song Book is perfect for cooking supper. I know this might raise some eyebrows but I like the  juvenile title–“Kisses on the Bottom” from “I am going to sit right down and write myself a letter” — “kisses on the bottom/ I’ll be glad I got ’em.” Who but a Beatle–or the English– would think of parsing the sentence quite like that? When I first heard the title I actually had visions of Paul planting a big one on a bottom–Monty Python, anyone?– but thankfully the opening song made it all clear. Whew!

I don’t know quite what to make of this phenomenon of musicians of a particular generation turning to the Song Book at particular points in their career. Does it signal a writer’s block? Does it point towards a wind down of sorts? I read somewhere that Eric Clapton made a record along the same lines. I have not heard it yet. And Willie Nelson has sung some of these songs as well, “kisses on the bottom,” for instance; just a gorgeous, gorgeous rendition. What a voice! Paul’s interpretation of these songs is less sensual than Willie Nelson’s, more tremulous, quiet and inward, whereas Willie Nelson sings like a sunrise. (Sorry, Paul, for the Willie Nelson digression.) Along with “Kisses on the Bottom,” the other standards explored here include “It’s only a paper moon,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “My very good friend the milk man,” “Always,” and the children’s song “Inch Worm,” with which the play list slowly inches towards one of Paul’s own songs, “Only Our Hearts,” lyrically similar to the sweet love ballads Paul is known for. I like the minor key quiet arrangement of these songs; for instance, Paul’s rendition of “My Valentine,” apparently another one of his own new songs is very beautiful, almost like the blues, and is probably my favorite in this album. It reminds me of “Autumn Leaves.” He also sings another Johnny Mercer song, the ubiquitous “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” which I have to say falls under the easy listening category to my ears.

In general, I think those of us who associate Paul with bright ballads would feel rather impatient with the quietness of these songs, and Paul’s tremulous voice, which is really what is most striking about this album.  As listeners, perhaps it is unavoidable that we “expect” certain things from musicians, even though we know that we should not pigeon-hole them in that manner. It is good for musicians to try out new modes and modalities. I, for instance, even plan to listen to Mick Jagger doing something god-awful with A. R. Rahman, though I brace myself at the thought. Fortify myself with Horlicks before I sit down. But I would readily give Paul’s new album yet another go.

Here is Chet Atkins playing Autumn Leaves. I thought of this version when I heard Paul sing “My Valentine.” I feel very sad when I think that Chet Atkins is dead; I would have loved to have seen him in a concert. What a great great musician!

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