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04/23/12

Paul McCartney
Kisses on the Bottom
Hear

McCartney fans will likely be perplexed by Sir Paul’s ninth-inning foray into the Great American Songbook. But aficionados of deftly crafted vocal jazz will appreciate this as an exemplary exercise in reinvention. McCartney successfully strips away the pop-star patina, embracing a quiet elegance that mirrors the interpretive brilliance of Fred Astaire. Yes, the voice has frayed (McCartney is nearing 70), but its well-traveled raggedness is integral to its effectiveness, echoing the tender vulnerability that so gorgeously defined Maxine Sullivan’s career-twilight renaissance in the mid-’80s.

Though the album is crowded with stellar players from both the jazz and pop worlds—including Christian McBride, Jeff Hamilton, John Clayton, John and Bucky Pizzarelli, Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder—its muse is Diana Krall. She is pianist and polestar throughout. Some might judge the accompaniment too low-key, but subtle shouldn’t be mistaken for shallow. Krall, who wrote all the rhythm arrangements, does favor a minimalist approach, sagely assessing that McCartney is best served by gentle nudges, particularly on “More I Cannot Wish You,” “Always,” “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the new composition “My Valentine” (on which Krall hands the reins to Clapton, who brilliantly responds by casting the piece in soft, bittersweet shadows).

If there’s fault to be had, it’s that McCartney fails, despite playful prodding from Krall and company, to adequately capture the breeziness of sprightlier numbers like “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” and “My Very Good Friend the Milkman.”

Originally published in April 2012
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