McCartney's Misunderstood, Impeccably Produced Beatles "Prequel"

It shouldn't be surprising that The Beatle who sang on Meet The Beatles "Till There Was You" from the Broadway hit "The Music Man" would eventually dip into the old song basket and pull out nearly an album's worth. McCartney has written so many songs in the "old style," from "Honey Pie," to "When I'm Sixty-Four" to "Martha My Dear." His father led a jazz band. I've read so many negative reviews of this misunderstood album, and it's a real shame because it will prevent many people, especially McCartney fans, from listening to it.

Unlike Rod Stewart's "Great American Songbook" albums that went looking for classics, McCartney was going for mostly really old songs—parlor songs—the ones he heard growing up. "For years I've been wanting to do some of the old songs that my parents' generation used to sing at New Year," he says in the liner notes.

So the tunes are more like A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night than they are what Rod was hitting. Yet the reviews I've read didn't get that so they criticized McCartney's singing style as sounding "old". Ya' think? That's what he was going for: close miked, high pitched, often sugary, always tender crooning. Like Harry Nilsson went for so successfully on his album that also was hardly a hit when first issued.

McCartney covers "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter" (a lyric from which is the album title), "Home (Where Shadows Fall)", "It's Only a Paper Moon," the tender "More I Cannot Wish You" (from the Broadway smash "Guys and Dolls"), "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive", Irving Berlin's chestnut "Always" and "The Glory of Love" plus a few more, along with McCartney originals "My Valentine" and "Only Our Hearts," with the former being among McCartney's most beautiful minor key ballad in some time, written while on vacation in Morocco with his new wife Nancy. He's not singing "Bye Bye Blackbird" because he's run out of cooler songs. He's included it because it fits in well with the parlor song concept and maybe because it refers back to his own "Blackbird" song. The arrangements (some by Sinatra veteran Johnny Mandel), the playing and production are all as classy as it gets today with the core consisting of Diana Krall's combo plus guests like John and Bucky Pizzarelli, Mike Mainieri, Anthony Wilson, Eric Clapton, Christian McBride and on occasion. The London Symphony Orchestra. The luxurious backdrop is reminiscent of Krall's albums only more opulent thanks to the guests.

The rest of the credits belong to a dream team of producer Tommy LiPuma, engineer and mixer Al Shmitt with additional engineering by Elliot Scheiner, and studios like Avatar, Capitol, Abbey Road and mastering by Doug Sax and Sangwook "Sunny" Nam. Add very handsome gatefold packaging, well-pressed 180g LPs from Rainbo and it adds up to a sumptuous listening experience that harkens back to the "old days" of the 1950s when great sounding records were the norm. Believe me, you will positively luxuriate in the richly textured, transparent, three dimensional sound and I think most listeners will understand and appreciate the vocal stance McCartney takes in these sessions: old-fashioned and elegant. Even if you weren't alive during the pre-war years, you'll feel as if you were listening to this very classy set.

No doubt it's not for everyone but for McCartney fans and for fans of this genre, it's easy to recommend either on vinyl or as a 96/24 download from HDTracks. The vinyl sounds richer, the download "cleaner" but not as fleshed out and involving. I don't know if analog tape rolled but I suspect so for the basic tracks, even if it was finished in and mixed to ProTools.

Definitely for McCartney fans, fans of Frank and Nat and those who enjoy pre-WWII music generally.

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StonedBeatles1's picture

Being a life long Beatles fanatic, as well as a huge fan of McCartney performing live, I have to disagree with this review completely. Yes, Macca decided to revisit music that he loved as a child but at what a cost? Yes the production is decent whether it was recorded part digital or not (at least my CD tells me so) but the arrangements are beyond boring!!!! Come on Fremer, were you eating some 35 year old Quaaludes when you listened to this? I was literally climbing the walls when I put this into my CD player and played it twice back to back just to make certain that the album-download-CD actually sucked as much as it does. And, poor Paul is finally loosing his voice :( Now I always loved the song Inchworm as a kid sung by Danny Kay but this is so awful it's beyond pathetic!! Christ, as if Rod Stewart doing the American songbook wasn't enough of a sorry ass joke Macca has to come up with this crap!? McCartney should be kissing everyone's bottom who listens to this nonsense! I thought The Who's last effort (Endless Wire) was the worst album I had ever heard but this may even top that. Unbelievable. Don't tell me you're being forced to promote this nonsense with the corporate buy out of your original site?

Now if one wants to hear an effort by another old timer doing music that he loved as a kid one must listen to the new recording Après by the one and only Iggy Pop!! It's mostly a French pop recording that is everything that both Rod and Macca lack. In plain simple English, It's The Shite! Iggy has grown up and turned into a Mensch's Mensch. Way to go Iggy!!

firedog55's picture

This is a very good album.

Yes, Paul doesn't have much of his voice left - and it's been going on for a while if you've been paying attention.

But it doesn't really matter. He knows how to sing, and it comes through, even when he is singing softly because he can't belt it out anymore.

The record sounds great to me. I understand if you don't like this kind of music - but that doesn't make it "shite". 

And the McCartney penned "My Valentine" is genius - sounds just like one of the old songs, and if we'd been told it's a rediscovered oldie from the 40's or 30's we would have believed it. And it's a good song to boot.

recordhead's picture

I really liked this album.  I knew what to expect before the needle hit the groove so I wasn't scratching my head waiting for "Maybe I'm Amazed."  Even on my very modest basement setup the LP sounds fantastic. 

HalSF's picture

And the comparison with Nilsson's impeccable collaboration with Gordon Jenkins is way off base.

tubesorsand's picture

I couldn't agree more! Even on my modest SL1200MkII with Stanton EE600 cartridge/needle combo (through an older broadcast preamp) the album sounds amazing. I'm not old enough to remember the Beatles as a performing group, but I've immersed myself in standards & period music for quite a while, and this is right up there in terms of song selection, delivery (sure Paul's getting older... we all are... our voices change... that's unavoidable), timing, recording, and production. This album is now one of the highlights of my vinyl collection, and, honestly, it's one of the best "standards" albums to come out in quite a while. Those who haven't heard it on vinyl (the CD is acceptable, I haven't heard the HiDef version, but the vinyl is in a league of its own) owe it to themselves to truly listen to it. I believe this is going to be a classic... and I'll continue to enjoy it regardless.

Amanda Hamilton's picture

The album has many audience. The turnout is very significant. -

lensimons's picture

I bought this LP shortly after release. On the first couple of listens I thought, "Hmm, Paul's voice is sounding a little weak these days." Another couple of spins and it began to strike me that he sounded exactly the way he wanted to. Which, for lack of a better couple of words, is "utterly charming".

This album has since become one of my favorites. The immaculate arrangements and playing by Diana Krall and her band add to the marvelous feel of the 14 tracks and the silky smooth sonics of the LPs makes every listen a pleasure.

Destined to become a classic, much like Harry's masterpiece.