Thursday 18 January 2018

Rhapsodising about Gershwin -- the return of Brian Wilson. . .

Every once in a very blue moon, a record company executive has a good idea. Last year, one of the suits in Disney's music section had, to use the technical term, a brainwave. The idea was to ask Brian Wilson to record an album of his favourite songs from Disney movies through the years. Wilson, though, had an even better idea: he agreed to do the Disney album on condition that he first be allowed to record an album of his favourite George Gershwin songs.

A deal was struck: the result was last year's blissful Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin -- the former Beach Boy's first new studio album since 2004.

Wilson had always admired the great composer as a kid growing up in California: a rhapsody in blue, after all, is a phrase that could sum up the Beach Boys' entire oeuvre. Indeed, Wilson takes the intro to Gershwin's mesmeric symphony and reproduces it, using multi-tracked layers of his own voice -- so that one could easily imagine it bookending, say, Pet Sounds.

Now Wilson is taking his Gershwin show on the road -- it arrives in Dublin's Grand Canal Theatre on September 7, where the 69-year-old will be backed by his note-perfect band The Wondermints. "I'm looking forward to playing my music again over there," says Wilson, speaking to the Weekend Review.

"We'll be doing my favourite Gershwin songs and also some of the old Beach Boys hits. Last night, we also threw in a Buddy Holly song, which I recorded for a special tribute album to Buddy. My heroes growing up were Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and George Gershwin."

The parallels between Wilson and Gershwin's life bear scrutiny: both formed fruitful music collaborations with their brothers -- Brian with his brothers Dennis and Carl; George with his wordsmith sibling Ira. Both were acclaimed as all-American musical innovators when they were still in their 20s.

But Wilson's album goes beyond mere homage -- it's very much made in his own image and all the better for it: his reading of 'I Loves You Porgy' is all sweetness and light until you remember that the song is the cri de coeur of an African-American slave; other Gershwin standards he takes on include 'Summertime', 'Someone To Watch Over Me' and 'It Ain't Necessarily So'.

But there are also two 'new' Gershwin songs ('The Like In I Love You' and 'Nothing But Love'). "The Gershwin estate allowed me access to a hundred unfinished song fragments from the archives," says Wilson. "We listened to them and decided which ones we could best make into complete songs. Scott Bennett helped write the lyrics to match the melodies. It was daunting, sure it was, but I'm very happy with the end results.

"As for the others, it was a matter of finding the songs that would suit my voice. We had a lot to choose from."

Earlier this year, the current touring version of The Beach Boys played the National Concert Hall. With his brothers Carl and Dennis sadly no longer with us, I wondered if Wilson was a little miffed that the remaining members (Al Jardine and Mike Love) were continuing to trade as The Beach Boys with no Wilson brother in sight?

"No, anything that keeps the Beach Boys name out there in the public eye is OK by me. I want those songs to be heard. It's keeping them alive."

Brian Wilson plays the Grand Canal Theatre on September 7

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