Review: Two American classics meet on 'Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin'
Some albums arrive with such anticipation and weight that they crumble under their own expectations. There is no way that the whole of â€œBrian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin,â€ out Tuesday, can be greater than the sum of its parts. The fact that some of it succeeds as well as it does given the breathy headiness surrounding the project (the Grammy word is already being tossed about), is an accomplishment of its own, but is it enough?
Take the music of George Gershwin, arguably the greatest American composer, and pair it with the brilliance of the Beach Boysâ€™ Brian Wilson, who, like Gershwin, creates melodies from a seemingly otherworldly beautiful place for us mere mortals to enjoy, and pair their talents. Most great pop artists from the â€˜60s and â€˜70s, whether it be Lennon/McCartney, Billy Joel, or Wilson were deeply influenced by Gershwinâ€™s stunning, classical-based piano works.Â In the modern pop era, few artists come close to Wilsonâ€™s gift for vocal arrangement. Wilson has often said that â€œRhapsody in Blueâ€ was the first piece of music he ever heard. Itâ€™s a natural fit.
The album opens beautifully and with great promise as Wilson vocalizes over Gershwinâ€™s most elegant piece of music,â€Rhapsody in Blue.â€ (The album smartly ends with a reprise of the short intro). Despite a slew of high points, â€œBrian Wilson Reimagines Gershwinâ€ never again captures that apex.
The albumâ€™s centerpiece is a medley of four tunes from Gershwinâ€™s masterwork, â€œPorgy & Bess.â€ Of the quartet, the two that work best are â€œSummertime,â€ which Wilson pays loving homage to, and an inventive, instrumental down-home take onÂ â€œI Got Plenty Oâ€™ Nuttin.â€™â€ The less said about his "I Loves You Porgy," the better.
Wilson, who co-arranged and orchestrated the music with Paul von Mertens, and handled all the vocal arrangements, treats the songs here reverentially, and, in some cases, too tentatively, such as on â€œSâ€™Wonderful,â€ which has a tropical, breezy feel that lapses into easy listening. Wilson, whose voice has been spotty for years, sounds fine here vocally for most of the songs, although aÂ little disengaged. The surrounding backing vocals, led by longtime Wilson cohort, Jeff Foskett, are always on target except on â€œSâ€™Wonderful,â€ where they sound like the cheesy, albeit tremendously successful, Ray Conniff Singers backing vocals that the Beach Boys helped conquer on the charts.
The tunes that work best are the ones where Wilson squarely merges the Gershwin melody with the classic Wilson sensibility of layered harmonies, bouncy keyboards, horns and doo-wop vocals to create the perfect mash-up between â€˜30s Gershwin and â€˜60s Beach Boys. â€œThey Canâ€™t Take That Away From Meâ€ is a jaunty, upbeat toe-tapper that sounds like it arrives in its own little deuce coupe (with a dose of â€œLittle St. Nickâ€ thrown in).
The hybrid also succeeds on â€œI Got Rhythm,â€ which takes flight at the end with its â€œI Get Aroundâ€ vocals. The best blending happens on â€œSomeone to Watch over Meâ€ with its gorgeous â€œGod Only Knowsâ€ layered backing vocals that enhance the heavenly feel of the original. The charming doo-wop take on "I've Got a Crush on You" is also winning.
Two songs, â€œThe Like in I Love Youâ€ and â€œNothing but Love,â€ are unfinished Gershwin songs that Wilson andÂ a collaborator complete. The upbeat latter, which sounds like it could have come off of Wilsonâ€™s 1988 self-titled solo album, works best.
The entire album clocks in at around a little more than 35 minutes and thatâ€™s a good thing. Not because the listener has likely had enough by then, but both Gershwin and Wilson have an unerring sense that brevity is often key in creating pop masterpieces. If nothing else, Wilson has always known when itâ€™s time to go.
"Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin" is available in stores and online Tuesday.
2013 | Drama | NRSummary: The classic "cop and killer" thriller story is given new life and energy in this Belfast-set TV series.Director: Allan Cubitt
Cast: Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan, John Lynch
2013 | Drama | NRSummary: A new crew of gangsters takes hold of Birmingham, England in the days after World War II, before expanding to London. Season Two guest-stars Tom Hardy.Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Paul Anderson, Tom Hardy
1960 | Drama | PGSummary: Somewhere on that wonderfully difficult line between comedy and drama is this story of an office worker (Jack Lemmon) whose apartment is used as a bachelor pad by his philandering bosses. Things get difficult when he and another man both fall for Shirley MacLaine.Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray
1999 | Comedy | NRSummary: Created by a marine biologist, this wacky animated series follows the residents of underwater city Bikini Bottom, among whom are the nerdy and optimistic SpongeBob, his pet snail Gary, the starfish Patrick and the arrogant octopus Squidward Tentacles.Director: Stephen Hillenburg, Tim Hill, Derek Drymon, Nick Jennings (creators)
Cast: Tom Kenny, Rodger Bumpass, Bill Fagerbakke
1989 | Comedy | NRSummary: The "show about nothing" follows friends played by Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards and Jason Alexander as the find the worst ways to deal with problems big and small.Director: Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld (creators)
Cast: Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, Jason Alexander
2013 | Action | RSummary: An elite firm of assassins must face their own mortality as they are hunted down one by one by a mysterious assailant. Caught up in the drama is a disgraced journalist who is more connected to the assassins' world than he could ever know.Director: Ian Chinsee
Cast: Benjamin Alldridge, Daniel Cason, Ian Chinsee, Anna Doody
2015 | Adventure | GSummary: Fun and talented animal fairy Fawn believes you can't judge a book by its cover, or an animal by its fangs, so she befriends a huge and mysterious creature known as the NeverBeast. While Tinkerbell and her friends aren't so sure about this scary addition to Pixie Hollow, the elite Scout Fairies s...Director: Steve Loter
Cast: Mae Whitman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Lucy Liu, Raven-Symoné
2014 | Drama | NRSummary: About a man who’s angry at his wife because she’s met another man on a park bench and they no longer even speak the same language.Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Cast: Jessica Erickson, Héloïse Godet, Zoé Bruneau, Kamel Abdeli
1997 | Drama | RSummary: In the weekend after thanksgiving 1973 the Hoods are skidding out of control. Benjamin Hood reels from drink to drink, trying not to think about his trouble at the office. His wife, Elena, is reading self help books and losing patience with her husband's lies. Their son, Paul, home for the holida...Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Henry Czerny
Let Streaming Genie help you.