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Over the course of his lengthy solo career, Sir Paul McCartney has established that there's no musical experiment he won't try his hand at. In addition to steady supply of pop/rock albums, the man has written albums consisting of film music, ambient electronic material, modern classical compositions, rockabilly covers and so much more. As such, McCartney's decision to record an album of romantic standards doesn't represent a change of pace for the legendary musician so much as it does keeping pace. McCartney's Kisses on the Bottom (a cheeky line from one of the songs on the album) features the ex-Beatle warbling his way through such time-tested gems as "Accentuate the Positive" and "Bye Bye Blackbird."
When I first listened to Kisses on the Bottom in early 2012, I was a bit underwhelmed by the experience. McCartney's previous album of covers had been the bracingly vital Run Devil Run, in which he gathered an eclectic blend of rowdy old rock tunes and blazed through them with alarming fury. By contrast, Kisses on the Bottom was tame, tasteful, timid and tired, a thoroughly respectful yet undeniably sleepy record that felt like an old pro going through the motions. It's ideal background music for a rainy February afternoon in Barnes and Noble, but it's so much less interesting than much of McCartney's output.
However, the album finds new life in the form of the concert film Live Kisses, which does a splendid job of both contextualizing the album and providing visual accompaniment that aids these tunes in weaving their quiet spell. The songs are largely numbers that McCartney remembered fondly from his childhood, and to his credit the relative obscurities appear as frequently as the established standards. For every "Always" or "It's Only a Paper Moon," there's a "My Very Good Friend the Milkman" or "Home (When Shadows Fall)." Perhaps even more impressively, McCartney's pair of original tunes fit seamlessly with the other numbers (and even manage to stand out as highlights). Most of the tunes from the album are performed live from the legendary Capitol Studios, and between each number there's a bit of behind-the-scenes info from McCartney or some warm anecdotes from his large ensemble.
And what an ensemble! McCartney's pianist is Diana Krall (who could have done this album on her own in her sleep), Joe Walsh on guitar, Johnny Mandel and Alan Broadbent providing conducting and arrangements…even Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton provide brief contributions. Everyone involved is an established pro with a solid career of their own, and McCartney actually seems a little intimidated by the crowd he's working with. Sure, McCartney will almost always be the biggest star in any room of musicians, but this isn't his musical comfort zone. This type of music is a bit more challenging for him, which may be why he kept his instrumental contributions to a minimum and decided to focus on his vocals. It's a warm, subdued concert that is enhanced greatly by the more documentary driven segments, which are woven between the individual numbers.
Paul McCartney: Live Kisses (Blu-ray) has received a stellar 1080p/1.78:1 transfer that features intentionally grainy, slightly muddy black-and-white photography. There are very few full-color shots sprinkled throughout the film, as Live Kisses mostly seems eager to give everything a scratchy, vintage feel on a visual level. That's certainly not the case in terms of the DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track, which preserves every plucked string, plunked key and weary sigh with expert clarity. Unlike most concert films, there's not a single aggressive, room-filling number to be found, but the mix shines in much subtler ways. Well done. Supplements include six (!) edits of the "My Valentine" music video (all of which feature Natalie Portman and/or Johnny Depp earnestly signing the lyrics), a pair of brief behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the music video and a 15-minute interview with McCartney. Best of all is the attractive digibook packaging, which comes with a terrific McCartney interview conducted by Mr. Diana Krall himself, Elvis Costello.
While I'm much more likely to turn to Chaos and Creation in the Backyard or Electric Arguments when I'm in the mood for some of McCartney's 21st-century work, Live Kisses makes a strong argument for the validity of an album I had essentially written off. It's absolutely the best way to experience this music, and Eagle Rock Entertainment has put together an exceptionally attractive hi-def package. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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