Brian Wilson

CD Review: Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

We reviewers get some strange albums floating across our desks every now and then. And Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin has to be one of the stranger albums that has crossed my path. While I appreciate Wilson and the classic Beach Boys sound, Gershwin is sacred ground and I went into my first listen with my arms crossed and a great big scowl on my face. For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised.

Wilson has said in interviews that the music of George Gershwin was a big influence on his own songwriting. The Gershwin Estate granted him special access to Gershwin’s music and gave their blessing for the recording. Some of the tracks miss the mark, but the vocal and instrumental arrangements are inventive and the album is beautifully produced. While not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, about half of the recording is, if not blessed, at least enjoyable.

“‘S Wonderful” is backed by a gentle bossa nova beat. “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” is given an upbeat, raucous ’50s arrangement. Doo-wop and piano triplets update (at least to the mid-20th century) “I’ve Got a Crush On You”. Wilson provides relatively straightforward arrangements underneath “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” the loveliest track on the album. The most overt Beach Boys arrangement is a thoroughly delightful “I Got Rhythm”.

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin
“I Got Rhythm”
“Nothing But Love”

When Wilson’s interpretations stumble, they do more than scrape their knees, and his selections from Porgy and Bess are particularly unappealing. With its sinuous blues accompaniment, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is the least offensive of the group. But “I’ve Got Plenty of Nuttin'” is wasted on an instrumental-only arrangement, and Wilson seems totally adrift on “Summertime”. You have to wonder if he even listened to the lyrics of “I Loves You, Porgy”.

The Estate also gave Wilson permission to use snippets from two unpublished Gershwin melodies to create a couple new pop songs. “The Like In I Love You” and “Nothing But Love,” with their classic Beach Boys-style arrangements, are arguably the best tracks on the recording because there are no expectations or preconceived notions of former interpretations going in.

If any album was a candidate for single-track downloading on iTunes, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin is it. I’m also not sure who the target market for this release is. Wilson and Beach Boy completists perhaps. Most Gershwin fans will steer clear. Still, Wilson’s love of the material shines through and he seems to be having a lot of fun. If you pick and choose with discretion, you should too.

  1. Heavens to murgatroid! I wonder if something like this will at least get the cellphone generation to sink into some Gershwin standards?
    The Gershwin estate seems about as misguided a gang as imaginable. They let this happen, but still won’t let them restore and release Otto Preminger’s rather wonderful, TODD-AO film version of PORGY AND BESS.

    1. I don’t understand why they won’t release PORGY AND BESS either. I saw a screening of it a year or so ago here in NYC and was surprised at how good it was. Not perfect, but affecting. And all that glorious music was a treat. I’ve heard that one of the reasons they won’t release it is that they were never happy with Andre Previn’s Oscar-winning adaptation, which I don’t understand since it sounds remarkably close to the original. Go figure. Then again, maybe I made that up. Can’t remember where I read it years ago. I keep hoping that’ll the release will happen someday.

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