What I'm hearing, reading, watching, etc.
Brian Wilson - No Pier Pressure. This is a real grab bag of an album, but a successful one overall.
Most of the songs were intended for a followup to the Beach Boys' surprisingly strong 2012 LP, That's Why God Made the Radio. When that didn't materialize, Wilson elected to release the songs on his own (hence the LP's punning title). However, he did recruit fellow Beach Boys singer Al Jardine and the group's original guitarist David Marks to contribute.
Wilson also got tangled up with the idea of doing a duets album. And here he teams up with a number of younger acts: Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities; Zooey DeSchanel; Kacey Musgraves; Peter Hollens, and Nate Ruess of Fun.
And then, just to mix things up further, he recorded a few tracks where he's the sole lead vocal.
The common thread to all this, of course, is the gorgeous harmonies that only Wilson can write and arrange. Yet it still doesn't quite all tie together.
Of the duet tunes, "Runaway Dancer" with Simonian is the worst. The song's electronic beats don't blend with Wilson's harmonies and the lyrics are godawful. "Our Special Love" starts off promising, but its Beach Boys-style opening soon devolves into Boyz to Men barbershop. Hollens' vocals on the tune don't have much character. "Saturday Night," with Reuss is much better, a decent song with a 1970s A.M. radio vibe. It doesn't really fit in with the rest of the album, yet it's pleasant and catchy.
The women fare much better. "On an Island" with DeSchanel has a fun retro-lounge feel with bachelor pad organ and jazzy guitar fills by her She and Him partner, Matt Ward. And "Guess You Had to Be There" with Musgraves is one of the best tracks on the record, its light-hearted lyrics referencing Wilson's own rise and fall during the 1960s. Her voice and Wilson's blend well.
The piece also fits well with most of the rest of the songs, which tend to have a melancholy twilight spirit to them.
Highlights include the opening track "This Beautiful Day," a lovely prelude in the spirit of "Meant for You" off the Beach Boys' Sunflower album,;"I'm Feeling Sad," a sort of update to "Busy Doin' Nothin'" from the Friends LP, and the trio of songs prominently featuring Jardine: "Whatever Happened To," "The Right Time" and "Tell Me Why."
Jardine still has his youthful "Help Me Rhonda" voice, which puts a Beach Boys stamp on everything he and Wilson sing together. Their collaborations on this album rank with the best tracks on That's Why God Made the Radio.
Holland-era Beach Boys member Blondie Chaplin is on hand for the album, too, and he and Jardine sound great on the "Sloop John B"/"Sail on Sailor" nod, "Sail Away."
The album certainly features some Auto-Tune and other studio trickery, but not to distraction. On some tracks, Wilson's voice is more exposed than it's been in years and it sounds wonderful. You can hear the age, but -- in the studio at least -- his range and feeling is remarkable, as are all those harmonies.
It's not a perfect album by any means. But by judicious editing, you can turn it into a pretty dang good one.
Note: The version of No Pier Pressure reviewed here is the "Deluxe Edition," which has 16 tracks, three more than the "Standard" edition. These songs are: "Don't Worry," "Somewhere Quiet" and "I'm Feeling Sad." These are all great songs featuring Wilson on sole lead vocal, so you don't want to miss them. There's also a version of the Deluxe Edition at Target stores that includes two additional bonus tracks (a 1975 demo of "In the Back of My Mind" and an undated, alternate version of "Love and Mercy") for a total of 18 songs.
The Wrecking Crew. Brian Wilson also figures in this documentary, which focuses on the crack crew of Los Angeles session musicians - Tommy Tedesco, Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine, Glen Campbell and more - who played on hundreds of top hits of the 1960s.
The musicians could simply sit around naming all the tunes they've played on and it would be a jaw-dropping film. From the Beach Boys to the Monkees, most of Phil Spector's sessions to Frank Sinatra, to the 5th Dimension, the Association, Sonny and Cher and a zillion more, these musicians played with simply everyone. Nearly every tune you'll hear on oldies radio features at least some of them.
But the film, directed by Tedesco's son Denny, goes deeper than that, giving us an idea of what it's like to have lived the very busy, generally well-paid, yet completely anonymous life of a session musician.
Being constantly on call was stressful and meant days and weeks away from your family. You also didn't get writing credit for all the hooks and licks you created, and which made all the difference in making songs into hits.
There are some great group discussions between these musicians and input from talking heads ranging from Wilson to Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Nancy Sinatra to the late Dick Clark. There are nice musical moments, too, such as Carol Kaye - the sole woman in the Wrecking Crew ranks - demonstrating her classic bass line on the "Mission Impossible Theme." Yes, many TV soundtracks of the 1960s also featured these folks.
There are plenty of musical clips throughout. Getting clearances for them all took years. But "The Wrecking Crew" is finally widely available. You can stream it now on Amazon and it will be out on DVD June 16. Like the equally vital "20 Feet From Stardom" and "Muscle Shoals" it's a must-see for fans of classic pop and rock'n'roll.