Review: Brian Wilson - In the Key of Disney

The sunny Beach Boys harmonies of Brian Wilson and the bright, nostalgic tunes of Disney films would seem like a natural match. Wilson's new release In the Key of Disney demonstrates how well it works in practice.

Featuring Wilson's distinctive vocal harmony arrangements and band arrangements by Wilson and his band member Paul Von Mertens, the album feels a little more casually put together than Wilson's recent set of George Gershwin tunes and, with a couple of notable exceptions, the pair doesn't take too many liberties with the tunes. But, still, Wilson sounds engaged and his vocals are very, very good, maybe the best I've heard them on any of his solo albums.

The album starts with a lively take on Randy Newman's "Toy Story" tune, "You've Got a Friend in Me," which sets the warm, casual tone of the songs that follow. Young children with no clue as to Wilson's history and pop genius will like this record just because it sounds friendly and fun -- and it includes tunes they know. My 8-year-old daughter was singing along from the start.

Myself, I was hoping for more old classics and fewer songs from more recent films -- there are so many great songs in the Disney catalog -- but I'm sure commercial concerns were involved. The album is on Disney's own label, after all.

Still, the performances of the newer songs are mostly good. A version of "Colors of the Wind" from "Pocahantas" is pretty dull and features some awful, cheesy backing vocal. It's just not a very good tune. But that's the low point.

Wilson's vocal on another weak song, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," an awful, saccharine tune if ever there was, elevate it to a higher standard. And the biggest surprise is "Kiss the Girl," from "The Little Mermaid." It works in the film as a goofy showpiece, but Wilson strips away the calypso-lite arrangement and substitutes it with a classic mid-60s Phil Spector sound. The result sounds like a lost Beach Boys nugget.

Also fun is a mash-up of "Heigh Ho," "Whistle While You Work" and "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)," that sounds like a Smile outtake -- bonkers vocals, odd percussion sounds and all.

Also charming are Wilson's takes on "The Bare Necessities," featuring a great xylophone arrangment, and "Stay Awake," the gorgeous lullaby from "Mary Poppins." And Brian Wilson singing "When You With Upon a Star" sounds as lovely as you'd imagine.

Note that the Amazon version of the CD features a bonus song, "Baby Mine," from "Dumbo," while the MP3 download includes a further bonus track: "Peace on Earth," the Christmas song from "Lady and the Tramp." I bought the Amazon CD and downloaded "Peace on Earth."

All in all, another nice Brian Wilson record. Who would have thought during his dark days of pretty much 1967 to the mid 1990s that we'd ever see a whole series of Brian Wilson solo albums and that they'd all be pretty darn good? Let alone that we'd see him release Smile (both his and now the Beach Boys' versions) and a children's album? He's a walking testament to hope and human beings' ability to overcome enormous challenges.

No comments:

Post a Comment