That Paul McCartney took the time and the care to pay tribute to old-time tunesmiths on this album of standards shows how deeply ingrained the works of Tin Pan Alley-era songwriters are in his psyche.
As a Beatle, McCartney always had the most blatantly melodic bent, and the strongest penchant for reviving old-fashioned song forms ("When I'm 64," "Your Mother Should Know"). He speaks affectionately in the liner notes about enjoying these types of songs as a boy at family sing-alongs. Unfortunately, too many of these versions lack that kind of joy and are shoehorned into conventional soft jazz settings that don't allow much in the way of spontaneity or real feeling. We're not used to McCartney sounding timid when he sings.
But that's what happens on the soupy "Bye Bye Blackbird," here slowed to a piano-bar crawl and drowned in a sea of strings. McCartney obviously loves this material by classic songwriters such as Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser and Harold Arlen, but loving it and making it vibrant again are two different things.
Of the two original songs he contributes, "Only Our Hearts" is forgettable, but "My Valentine" has the ring of a instant classic, its seemingly happy lyrics edged with tinges of sadness in McCartney's vocal and the elegantly simple but decidedly downbeat backing. "Kisses on the Bottom" could have used more tracks with that song's genuine emotional pull.
For the most part, the album instead focuses on meticulously tasteful arrangements for McCartney's softly reverent vocals that tiptoe around these songs instead of breathe life into them. Soft-pop specialist Tommy LiPuma produces impeccably, with Diana Krall adding flawless piano accompaniment throughout and the London Symphony Orchestra adding strings.
If this type of perfectly observed craft rings your bells, you'll also appreciate guest spots from Eric Clapton on guitar and Stevie Wonder on harmonica, and arrangements from veteran Johnny Mandel.
Now, about that title -- it's not at all what you might think. The kisses referred to are on the bottom of the letter being written in Fats Waller's standard "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter." Shame on you for thinking otherwise.