The Art of McCartney-A Celebration of the Music of Sir Paul McCartney
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
The frustration with many tribute albums is that the artists involved are often so fringe or under-the-radar that most listeners don’t care how they cover any given song. There are no such concerns on this 34 (42 in its deluxe configuration) track sampler of all things Paul McCartney; nearly every participant is a recognizable star. From Billy Joel and Steve Miller to BB King, Heart, Smokey Robinson, Willie Nelson, Kiss and perhaps inevitably Brian Wilson, there is no shortage of spotlight stealing names. On the downside, despite the variety and diversity those artists represent, McCartney’s long time touring band provides a majority of the instrumental backing. So, unlike the Flaming Lips’ recent innovative, if not entirely successful, reimagining of the entire Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, nothing varies much from the way Paul has arranged and performed these songs for decades. McCartney approved the eleven year in the making project, which also limits the final product from drawing too far outside his established pop boundaries.
With 50 years of material to choose from, including solo, Wings and, of course, Beatles songs, this is an entertaining listen regardless of your fondness for the performers. Even those with questionable links to McCartney such as Sammy Hagar (a rollicking “Birthday”), Dion (“Drive My Car”), Alice Cooper (almost unrecognizable on a subdued “Eleanor Rigby”) and, representing a younger generation, The Airborne Toxic Event (a lovely, acoustic “No More Lonely Nights”), deliver earnest and satisfying covers.
A few pleasant surprises, such as Toots Hibbert’s reggae “Come and Get It”; BB King’s bluesy “On the Way” (a deep cut rescued from McCartney ll) and Kiss doing a near note perfect “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” balance the inescapable missteps like Harry Connick Jr’s schmaltzy, Sinatra heavy “My Love” and Bob Dylan (who sounds more like Tom Waits every day) croaking through “Things We Said Today,” which are bumps in the road. In some instances such as Willie Nelson’s heartfelt, string quartet-free “Yesterday” with harmonica player Mickey Raphael, the songs take on another, arguably fresher life.
As usual, the originals prevail. Yet even with its musical limitations, it’s hard to dislike an album that’s ultimately a lot of fun. The vocal performances show McCartney’s songwriting diversity and how many stars he influenced, regardless of age and genre. It could have been twice as long and still not comprehensive enough for an artist who is on anyone’s shortlist as the finest of his generation.