By Chaz Lipp
When I first heard that Paul McCartney would be releasing an album of Great American Songbook standards, I was immediately concerned that he simply didn’t have the voice for it at this point in his career. Yes, he’s still out there performing marathon shows of his own material (see our review of a recent Vancouver B.C. concert), defiantly refusing to veer from the original keys in which the songs were recorded. But his voice has changed over the years and he has adapted his singing style on new material to accomodate the loss of range.
Imagine what Kisses on the Bottom, the album of mostly standards that emerged in February of 2012, might’ve sounded like had he recorded it 40 years earlier. Actually, while McCartney’s voice certainly would’ve been stronger, he might not have approached the material with the restraint that makes Kisses such a winning, low-key collection. In the new DVD (also available on Blu-ray) Live Kisses, from Eagle Rock Entertainment, we are treated to an intimate live performance McCartney gave at Capitol Studios to promote the album. We learn throughout the excellent interview material inserted between songs – as well as in the extended interview with McCartney and producer Tommy LiPuma – it took a while for McCartney to “find his voice” for this project.
What we see and hear in Live Kisses is a dialed-down McCartney, backed (as he is on the album) with sympathetic piano accompaniment by Diana Krall. McCartney doesn’t showboat or ham it up, as is sometimes his wont. He tiptoes gingerly across tunes like “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, And Me),” “More I Cannot Wish You,” and “Home (When Shadows Fall).” What, you were expecting “It Had To Be You” and “The Way You Look Tonight?” McCartney is well aware he’s neither Harry Connick Jr. nor Rod Stewart. Rather than go with the more predictable choices, we hear material that is generally less performed – giving us less to immediately compare it to.
The best moment – and it’s utterly priceless – is when he attempts to whistle the intro to one of the most obscure tunes here, “My Very Good Friend the Milkman.” He fouls it up not once, but twice – apologizing self-deprecatingly to the assembled jazz musicians and orchestra. He’s done this sort of thing before (on 1991’s Unplugged he messed up the start of “We Can Work It Out,” then later incorporated it – rather cloyingly – as a “bit” while on tour), but never before has he seemed so vulnerable – so human. He comes very close to losing his timing on another number or two, forcing himself to add a little spontaneity to his otherwise cautious, conservative melodic interpretations. Those viewers with experience in jazz might detect a little note of concern in Krall’s eyes during these moments. But, consummate pro that he is, McCartney always keeps it together.
Bottom line (no pun intended), Live Kisses could’ve been a self-indulgent tangent from an artist long able to do whatever he pleases. It’s not. This performance, captured in period-evoking black-and-white and featuring surprisingly insightful interviews from McCartney and most of the other principle participants (including Joe Walsh, who sits in on lead guitar for two tracks), is a total delight. Don’t expect to be wowed by a display of vocal virtuosity. As an artist, McCartney seems refreshingly aware of his own limitations at this stage. At 70 years of age, McCartney keeps pushing himself to explore new musical avenues.
The DVD is augmented by a bevy of bonus features. One of two McCartney originals on Kisses on the Bottom, “My Valentine” is presented as not one, but six different (albeit slightly) music videos. Two points of great interest to consider before yawning at the inclusion of yet another music video: 1) McCartney directed it himself, 2) it stars none other than Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp. The best bit is a “behind the scenes” segment about the video where we get to see McCartney directing his two stars (separately, their footage wasn’t shot together). Depp even learns the original Eric Clapton solo so he can accurately mime it during filming. There are a few other bits as well, including the aformentioned McCartney/LiPuma interview and some material about the album cover photo shoot, to round out a terrific package.