Review: Gershwin Goes Surfin’

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (Disney Pearl)

On the surface, it’s an intriguing idea—a rock-era master of melody and vocal harmony revisits and reworks music of a pre-rock master of jazzy rhythm and sophisticated tunefulness. And in fact, the result is more interesting than many straight-ahead readings of standards by run-of-the-mill vocalists.

Ultimately, though, the question you’re left with after listening to Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin is whether you think, when you hear a great Gershwin tune by a classic interpreter, “Gee, I wish I could hear the Beach Boys do this.” That is not usually my first thought, and Brian Wilson’s laudable attempt to honor one of his idols doesn’t really change that.

Which is not to say the album doesn’t have many bright spots and surprises. Wilson is still a surprisingly good singer, given his unique California-bred style. His collaboration with arranger Paul Mertens generated some appropriate transition scoring, and the album flows together as one piece rather than separate songs. Wilson sounds poignant on “Summertime” and bravely tackles the lament “I Loves You Porgy,” without changing the gender of the lyrics. This conjures a rather strange image of Wilson in the role of Bess, who in Gershwin‘s opera Porgy and Bess begs Porgy in this song to save her from the clutches of the domineering murderer whose sexual advances she can’t resist.

This is not the only unfortunate comparison the album suggests. Because many of the arrangements sound like classic Beach Boys hits, some of the songs bring to mind those often funny readings of Christmas songs by Beatles sound-alike bands. Is that “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” or “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” Is that “S’Wonderful” or “Kokomo?” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” or “Little St. Nick?”

By the CD’s end, it’s kind of like you’ve seen an old TV variety show where the host and guest sing each other’s hits. Too bad Gershwin’s not around so we can hear his version of “Surfer Girl.” That apples-and-oranges problem pervades Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. Leave Gershwin to the Big Apple, put on the Beach Boys’ Endless Summer, and enjoy a juicy California orange.

Author: Rusty Cutchin

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