Brian Wilson And Friends (CD + DVD) By Brian Wilson And Friends

February 14, 2017

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The new live release by Brian Wilson and Friends is bittersweet. Wilson is now 74 years old and one has to wonder about his future. His voice is not of the caliber of his prime, so the emphasis on many of the tracks centers on his friends. In some ways he becomes the sideman. On the other hand he is one of the recognized genius’ of American pop music and his compositions remain a nostalgic part of American culture.

His friends include former Beach Boys Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar, and Al Jardine who oddly is not mentioned anywhere in the liner notes but is a dominant figure in the music. Other friends include She & Him and Nate Ruess, the lead singer of the pop group Fun.

The sound and the DVD quality are both excellent. There are set differences. “California Girls” and “”California Saga” only appear on the CD. The DVD adds nine additional songs including the classic ballads “Don’t Worry Baby” and “God Only Knows.”

The concert was recorded at the Venetian in Las Vegas;. The music is a microcosm of Brian Wilson’s and the Beach Boys career. Al Jardine steers the band through “Wouldn’t It be Nice,” “Help Me Rhonda,” and the underappreciated classic “All Summer Long.” Chaplin and Fataar shine on “Marcella,” “Wild Honey” and “Sail On Sailor.” Ruess has a wonderful voice and he takes the lead on “Hold On Dear Brother,” “Darlin,’” and “Saturday Night.”  Beach Boy staples such “Heroes  And Villains,” “Dance Dance Dance,” “Fun Fun Fun,” and “Good Vibrations” are group efforts, which work well given Wilson’s vocal limitations.

His solo material is more reflective and runs counterpoint to the early Beach Boys songs. The two bonus songs, which close the DVD; “Pacific Coast Highway,” and “Summer’s Gone” are the statement of an aging musician looking back on his career and life.

While Brian Wilson takes a back seat to his friends many times; it is his music that is front and center and ultimately carries the album. It is a ride through the decades of the eternal summer that Brian Wilson created so many years ago.

 


Surf City By Jan And Dean

September 11, 2014

 

Today Jan & Dean are best remembered for their 1960s series of surf and car singles that were second only to The Beach Boys in terms of commercial success. What people forget is that the duo placed 11 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 before they grabbed onto The Beach Boys’ coattails.

During the early 1960s, they opened for The Beach Boys in a number of concerts. Seeing the success of their type of music, Jan Berry asked Brian Wilson if he had any songs they could record. Wilson would not give them “Surfin’ USA” but did give him two unfinished songs, which he would share writing credit if Berry finished them. The first was “Gonna Hustle You,” which Berry changed to “New Girl in School.” The other song made history as the first number one surf song of the rock and roll era. “Surf City” first reached the Billboard Hot 100, June 15, 1963, and on July 20, 1963, reached number one, where it remained for two weeks.

If there was one thing Jan Berry could do, it was produce a song. He may not have been in Brian Wilson’s league but he had the ability to create a virtual choir of sound from his and Dean Torrence’s voices. He would then layer in the instruments to create layers of sound. He may not have had the musical vision of Wilson, but he was able to create some of the catchiest and best singles of the era. The problem was Jan & Dean could not re-create the sound on stage without an array of backing vocalists.

The opening harmony on “two girls for every boy” was an attention getter. It was a brilliant piece of up-tempo pop that made one want to pack up and head for the shore.

Their commercial success came to an end April 12, 1966, when Jan Berry was involved in a serious car accident. He suffered severe brain damage, from which it took him years to recover. It took almost a decade before they began to tour regularly again. While the hits stopped, they were summer regulars on oldies tours until Berry’s death in 2004.

The music of Jan & Dean is part of that nostalgic eternal summer. They may not have changed American music but they made it a bit more pleasurable and fun and sometimes that is enough. No matter what people may think of their legacy, 51 years ago  Jan & Dean ruled the American music world.


Made In California by The Beach Boys

September 21, 2013

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It has been quite a busy couple of years for the Beach Boys. There was a new studio album, a successful 50th anniversary tour, and a live CD and DVD chronicling that tour. Now they have dropped the big one. MADE IN CALIFORNIA is six CD’s, 174 songs, and 473 minutes of music that includes 60 previously unreleased tracks. Everything comes in a high school type year book and also features recollections from the band members, classic artwork, archival photos, and inscriptions from Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks. It is musical nirvana for any fan of the band.

The sound of the set is phenomenal and brings many of the older tracks into the 21st century. While some of the material is limited by their original recording process, overall the clarity does not get much better.

The first four plus discs are in chronological order. This means that rarities and unreleased tracks are mixed in with many of their well-known hits. An example of this release is the first disc, which begins with a home recording of “Surfin,’” followed by “Surfin’’ with session introduction, a demo of “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring,” and the original mono long version of “Surfin’ Safari.” And so begins the journey of The Beach Boys, which continues with almost eight hours of music.

Some of the highlights include Dennis Wilson’s lead vocal on a live “Help Me Rhonda,” a true stereo version of “Do It Again,” a Blondie Chaplin vocal on “Wild Honey,” plus the previously unreleased “Goin’ To The Beach,” “California Feelin,’” “Soul Searchin,’” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” and “You’re Still A Mystery To Me.”

The live tracks run the gamut from all periods of their career. Live performances making their debut are “Runway” (1965), “Friends” (1968), “Little Bird” (1968), “Sail On Sailor” with the lead vocal by Carl Wilson (1995), and acoustic versions of “This Whole World” and “Slip On Through (1993). Of particular note is the re-discovery of the 1964 BBC live in the studio sessions, which include “Wendy,” “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man),” and “Hushabye.”

MADE IN CALIFORNIA is a rare big set that is worth the price. It traces the journey of The Beach Boys through a half century of their career and is a journey worth taking with them. It is an essential listening experience not only for fans of the band but for anyone still seeking the eternal summer.


Good Vibrations Tour DVD by The Beach Boys

August 7, 2013

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The Beach Boys celebrated their 50th anniversary last year with the release of a new studio album and a series of commercially successful and artistically brilliant concerts. A DVD and CD of those concerts have recently been released. Who knows what will soon follow? Now, to capitalize on the renewed interest in the band, Eagle Rock Entertainment has climbed aboard the time machine to issue the DVD, Good Vibrations Tour.

The Beach Boys were promoting their latest revival back in 1976. They had just released 15 Big Ones, but more importantly Brian Wilson had become active again. To capitalize on the then-renewed interest in The Beach Boys, the cameras were rolling during a concert in Anaheim. That concert material was combined with some studio tracks, interviews, and skits to create a television special. That program has now been resurrected, which is good news and bad news.

The concert features the original Beach Boys, consisting of the three Wilson brothers, Al Jardine, and Mike Love. The show is basically a greatest hits affair. Songs such as “Fun Fun Fun,” “I Get Around,” “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “California Girls” and the like have been sung thousands of times live by the Beach Boys and the performances here are workmanlike. They are fine but there is nothing to separate them from what has gone before or has been released since.

One major issue is Brian looks completely lost. He is rarely the focus of attention and contributes little. On the other hand, Dennis Wilson is very animated and a center of attention. He shows why he was always the cool Beach Boy and is far different than his zombie-like appearance several years later, chronicled on the 1980 Live At Knebworth DVD. It is also a poignant look at Carl Wilson, whose voice and stage presence makes one realize just how important he was to the band.

One important fact to remember is this was a television program. There are a number non-concert sequences included among the concert tracks. There is a spectacular performance of the group performing “That Same Song,” supported only by a Baptist Church Choir and a piano. At the other end of the spectrum is Carl, Dennis, and Brian gathered around the piano performing a goofy version of “I’m Bugged at My Ol’ Man.”

There are a number of skits, for want of a better word. Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live was involved in the project and here we have John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, dressed as policemen, arresting Brian Wilson for violations of the surf code. I probably could do without Dennis Wilson judging a beauty pageant and Carl flying a plane, but it’s all harmless fun.

The major problem is the video quality. It was recorded during the 1970s and still looks like the 1970s. I don’t think there was any effort to clean it up using modern technology.

The Good Vibrations Tour DVD basically is a look at the Beach Boys at a specific time in their career. In many ways it is a nice counterpoint to what is being released from their 2012 tour. It is not a necessary release, but a pleasant one. It should fill in some gaps for their large fan base.


Barbara Ann by The Beach Boys (Dutch Release)

March 22, 2013

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Many singles by the Beach Boys were issued in various countries with different picture sleeves.

“Barbara Ann” was first issued by The Regents during 1961 and it reached number 13 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. The Beach Boys version spent two weeks at number two duringng early 1966. The odd thing about the release was that Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean provided the lead vocal.

The Beach Boys PARTY album was supposed to have been recorded live at a Beach Boys get together. Brian Wilson could not help but tinker with it in the studio. Still, “Barbara Ann” has a live feel to it.

The Beach Boys had four number one hits but “Babrara Ann” was their only number two making it the fifth biggest single hit of their career. The Dutch picture sleeve shows a very young group just about to enter the most creative period of their career.


Live In Concert: 50th Anniversary (DVD) by The Beach Boys

December 8, 2012

Fifty years ago the Beach Boys caught a wave and rode it into the American consciousness. Their songs of surfing, cars, and romance combined with impeccable harmonies and catchy melodies to create a summer without end. While that eternal summer was just beyond the horizon and never really attainable, they at least kept the possibility alive.

In celebration of their golden anniversary the surviving Beach Boys created a wonderful studio album, That’s Why God Made The Radio, and embarked on an extensive 75-stop world tour. Live In Concert: 50th Anniversary presents a glimpse of their tour.

The good news is the 21 tracks are excellent and a testament to the lasting virtuosity of the band. Yes, they are older and the voices show some wear and tear but the harmonies are still present and the disc is a fine ride through some of the well-known and lesser known songs. The bad news is what is missing. Many of their concerts were divided into two sets which stretched out to 50 songs to match their 50th anniversary. Their Phoenix concert came close to that mark and songs such as “Please Let Me Wonder,” “Pet Sounds,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Add Some Music to Your Day,” “Little Honda,” and about 20 others were performed but not released on the DVD. If you are going to release a concert, then my feeling is include everything.

What is here is very good and worth the price of admission. From the opening “Do It Again” to the closing “Fun Fun Fun,” they appear engaged, relaxed, and happy. Yes, there are supporting musicians to fill in the gaps, including longtime guitarist Jeff Foskett, but the focus is mostly on the main members and they come through in fine style. The playing, the singing, and the general atmosphere they create are better than I expected.

Such eternal hits as “Good Vibrations,” “California Girls,” “I Get Around,” and “Little Deuce Coupe” share the stage with new songs, “That’s Why God Made the Radio” and “Isn’t It Time.” Throw in deeper cuts like “Hawaii,” “Marcella,” and “Sail On Sailor” and you have a ride through their 50-year career.

Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks, and Bruce Johnston reunited for what may or may not be a final ride. If you just focus on what is here, then this this DVD is a worthwhile purchase. They prove that the eternal summer is still out there somewhere.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: The Beach Boys – Live In Concert: 50th Anniversary on Blogcritics.


Good Time/Sweet Mountain 45 by Spring

November 21, 2012

Diane Rovell and Marilyn Wilson formed Spring when Ginger Blake left The Honeys and the group disbanded. Their sound would essentailly be the same and Marilyn’s husband, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, would continue to be involved.

“Good Time/Sweet Mountain” was typical of their sound. It was light pop with nice harmonies. Unfortunately the music world of the 1970s was changing and their material received little attention and no chart action.

Today the Spring singles are quite collectable.