Review: Is It New Or Is It Old?

Well, here we are almost to the end of summer 2010 … and we have a handful of new records that sound nothing like the summer of 2010.

Now I am a HUGE fan of Brian Wilson, and the Beach Boys – but I must admit Wilson’s new Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin leaves me kinda cold.   Wilson has said many times that George Gershwin is his all-time fave, and as a result Gershwin’s heirs have asked Wilson to create a tribute to the long-dead composer.   There’s no doubt that Brian Wilson’s genius ear for arrangement is still on-target, that’s obvious on the beautiful, accapella version of “Rhapsody In Blue” that opens and closes the album.  And “Summertime” (from the musical “Porgy and Bess”) with Wilson’s voice is just about perfect for this time of the year.  It’s on some of the other tracks where I get a little lost:  the instrumental “I Got Plenty O’ Nuffin’ ” sounds like a Pet Sounds outtake, and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” was better when it was “Little Deuce Coupe.”  Oh, this is all right I supppose, particularly if you’re more a fan of Gershwin than of Wilson.  In my case, I kinda wish Brian had devoted all this energy to writing some new songs.  Ah well, maybe next time.

Listen to piano demos Brian Wilson used to create songs for the new Gershwin album

John Mellencamp strips it all down and gets back to his “roots” with the new No Better Than This. Rather than reinterpreting old songs like Brian Wilson, Johnny Cougar’s done the opposite – he casts some freshly written tunes in “old” settings.  He visits Sun Studios in Memphis to cut a rockabilly tune, he records a bluesy tune in San Antonio’s Menger Hotel, where Robert Johnson recorded … you get the idea, right?  The title song manages to rock out,  and that Menger Hotel tune “Right Behind Me” manages to summon up the right amount of spookiness.  Complete with low-fi production from T-Bone Burnett, No Better Than This seems to be the right step for Mellencamp.

MP3: “No Better Than This” by John Mellencamp

Let’s go back even farther in time, say Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three.  The band’s Riverboat Soul could have been heard on a dark night along the Mississippi, circa 1933.  For lack of a better adjective, this is pure Americana – with heaping teaspooons of ragtime, bluegrass and back-porch blues.   Impeccably played and sung, the songs never break character for a modern-day wink and that makes Riverboat Soul all the better for it.

MP3: “La La Blues” by Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three

You gotta love YOSO, and not just for the name.  YOSO is made up of former members of Toto (singer Bobby Kimball) and Yes (keyboard player Tony Kaye and bassist/singer Billy Sherwood).  Elements is the band’s first album, and there are strong original numbers like “Path To Your Heart” and “To Seek The Truth.”  Kimball’s vocals are pretty solid, but on a few numbers he threatens to lose control; I think “Walk Away” could have been stronger with a few more takes.   In case you have a short memory, Elements comes with a second CD of live performances of a few of the new tunes and some Toto/Yes classics like “Hold The Line,” “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and “Rosanna.”  Now this is classic rock!

MP3: “Walk Away” by YOSO

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