Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

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During his five decades of music-making, Brian Wilson has added countless songs to the canon of great American pop music, but he hasn't recorded many by other composers. Still, his affection for the work of George Gershwin is long, and quite evident from this tribute album. In it, Wilson presents 11 classics from Gershwin's pen, and received the blessing of the Gershwin estate to finish two incomplete songs, "The Like in I Love You" and "Nothing But Love." As usual, Wilson's musical instincts are impeccable, and with a full orchestra lending additional weight to these songs, it's easily the best production on a Brian Wilson record since 2004's SMiLE. (It doesn't hurt that the lyrics as well as the music are tried and true; most of Wilson's solo output, and much of the Beach Boys' after 1967, has suffered from trite or tone-deaf lyrics.) Wilson is also in fine voice for his age, finding the pathos in "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So" during a four-song medley, and even multi-tracking his vocals for the first time on the opener, a nearly a cappella version of "Rhapsody in Blue." "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" is done up, as an instrumental, in full Pet Sounds splendor (complete with bass harmonica), while "I Got Rhythm" is neatly transformed into an uptempo nugget to rank with "Surfin' U.S.A." or "Little Honda." Wilson's normal studio group is augmented here with an orchestra (the arrangements and orchestrations are by Wilson and Paul Von Mertens), and they stay in the background except when needed -- just one of the many fine touches to the entire production here. Granted, Wilson's bouncy take on "They Can't Take That Away from Me" is never going to compete with Ella Fitzgerald's (or even Julie London's), and "'S Wonderful" is nearly blanded out into easy listening oblivion, but nearly everything else here is loving, sincere, and worthy of hearing by fans of the Beach Boys or Broadway.

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