Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (2010)

Except for 2004's Smile Brian Wilson's solo releases have never matched the quality of his best Beach Boys material. His frequently juvenile lyrics are the reason. While the genius arranger reacquired his lost sanity around 1983 emotionally he is still locked into 1965 and it shows in his songs.  The problem is emphasized by the lyrics found on his new CD of George Gershwin standards, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin.  Everything on this disc was written many years before the Hawthorne, CA native was even born and because Gershwin's lyrics are more sophisticated than Wilson's we are rewarded with a set of tunes that are more enjoyable than anything found on the latter's recent original work.  For this album the star only needed to use the talents he is best suited for: arranging the music and producing the record in the studio.

Wilson has said many times that his favorite piece of music has always been Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." He even remembers being captivated by it when he was only two years old.  The lone survivor from the famous trio of brothers convinced Disney's Pearl Records to support his idea for an album using the late composer's songs. As it turns out they were quite receptive to the idea and Gershwin's estate even offered him more than one hundred unfinished songs to complete however he wanted.  With lyricist Scott Bennett, who is also a member of the songwriter's current band, he completed two that became "The Like in I Love You" and "Nothing but Love."

Among the rest of the fourteen tracks are standards that include a four song suite from Gershwin's opera, Porgy and Bess.  "I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’" was turned into an instrumental that sounds like an outtake from Pet Sounds in large part due to the presence of a bass harmonica used as a lead instrument. "I Got Rhythm" could be a fast and happy Beach Boys single from the mid-60s.  With its sprightly call and response lead vocal and chorus "They Can't Take That Away from Me" is another highlight.  Wilson also turned in a nice job on one of Gershwin's finest numbers, "Someone to Watch Over Me."  The album opens and closes with an almost a capella arrangement of the introduction to "Rhapsody In Blue."

It's possible not everyone will buy into the fact that these songs are Wilsonized versions of pre-World War Two pop classics because they don't sound anything like what most people would expect to hear when listening to music inspired by The Great American Songbook.  Liking this CD depends mostly on whether or not you enjoy the surf-rock icon's post-Beach Boys output.  Also, Wilson's voice is not what it used to be.  Even though he can still sing well his angelic falsetto is gone.

You can decide about the merits of this music for yourself by listening to all of the songs at Amazon and Wilson's official website.

1 comment:

  1. I picked this one up too, but haven't had a chance to fully "digest" it. Some stuff I really enjoy... It makes me wish that Brian had done this project years ago-- when he still had his angelic falsetto though... perhaps when Carl or even Dennis were still alive and they could have recorded it as a trio (I wouldn't let Mike Love within 100 miles of the studio where this was being recorded)!

    Carl was always "the voice" whereas Brian was more "the arranger." And as Pacific Ocean Blue proved it turned out that Dennis was almost as talented as Brian when it came to arrangements.