The Beach Boys, Joe Walsh and Chris Robinson Deliver Three Waves of California Rock

Add It To The Collection: When I first heard The Beach Boys were getting back together to celebrate their 50th anniversary with an album and tour I accepted the news with mixed feelings.  Having seen them live with and without Brian Wilson going all the way back to the CNE Grandstand in the early 1980’s, I was glad to hear the guys were getting back together to ‘Do It Again’ for the fans.   Too many bands forget it’s the fans who want to see these reunions most (I’m looking at you Axl).  But I also questioned what this reunion might do for their growing legacy, hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed 2011 Smile Session reissues.  I mean, how could you make a 50th anniversary/reunion record without making it ooze of pure nostalgia?  Leave it to a couple of 70 year olds who have spent the better part of 25 years embroiled in law suits, battling illness and mental health issues to do it right. 

It would have been so easy for The Beach Boys to mail it in on their first new collection of original material featuring all surviving  members since 1985, but Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks have produced a record that sounds as timeless as it sounds fresh.  Even the album’s artwork looks retro while not appearing recycled. 

That’s Why God Made The Radio sees Brian Wilson back behind the wheel as the driving creative force of ‘America’s Band’.  He has writing credits for 11 of the 12 tracks and produced every song on the album.  Wilson also gets lead vocal credits on at least 8 of the tracks.  This might be the most involvement Wilson has had on a Beach Boys record since the late 1960’s.  And you can tell.  The three/four and five-part harmonies are incredibly arranged by Wilson and delivered with classic Beach Boys precision the way only they can.  No other band has or will ever sound like The Beach Boys.

While the sound is quintessentially Brian Wilson/Beach Boys, so are the topics.  The band is still singing about good times (‘Spring Vacation’), girls (‘Daybreak Over The Ocean’), and the California lifestyle (‘Beaches In Mind’) but the lyrics don’t sound dated or out of place coming from the mouths of grandfathers. 

The album ends with a four song suite reminiscent of Wilson’s most ambitious works on Pet Sounds or Smile.  Beautiful harmonies and melodies combine to create another modern pop symphony.  If Smile was a teenage symphony to god, then these last four tracks are that same teenager’s musings 50 years down the road.  The album closes on Summer’s Gone, perhaps the perfect note for The Beach Boys’ recorded career to come to an end.  Wilson delivers a breathtakingly melancholy melody and a lyric that leads one to believe this could be his final bow:  ‘Our dreams hold on for those who still have more to say … it’s time to go…’.

Worth Another Listen: Legendary Eagles guitar player Joe Walsh is also back with his first solo album in 20 years, Analog Man.  While the title track is clearly a shot at the current state of the music business and digital technology it’s the track’s big riffs, slide licks and overall production (Jeff Lynne) that makes it work so well – think “Rocky Mountain Way” 2.0.  The album features some great guitar playing top to bottom and some very well written, and obviously personal, tracks including “Family”, “Lucky That Way” and “One Day At A Time”, clearly written about Walsh’s battle with substances and alcohol.  The album clocks in at 10 tracks and very digestible 36-minutes of catchy, radio-friendly tunes.  Must Have Track:  “Funk 50” a sequel to “Funk 48” and “Funk 49” from Walsh’s James Gang days.

Worth Another Listen: The 1960’s San Francisco psychedelic sound  is alive and well on the debut album from the Chris Robinson Brotherhood , Big Moon Ritual.  Seven tracks sprawl out over an hour of music as the Black Crowes’ lead singer and his capable band negotiate a series of self-proclaimed ‘freaky’ jams.  Robinson is joined by the Crowes’ current keyboard player Adam MacDougall as well as sometime Crowe guitar player and producer Neal Casall.  The result is a jangly sonic experiment that sounds like a lost Grateful Dead jam session.  There’s nothing remarkable about this release, but Robinson is a great singer and hopefully gearing up for a full-fledged Black Crowes reunion in the near future.

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