By Alan Smith
When confronted with a musical tribute to Brian Wilson and/or The Beach Boys collection, I’ll instinctively reach for my car keys, duck, run, and seek sanctuary in the hills. Such ventures are sometimes a mixed bag of attempts to appeal to the broad church that is Brian’s audience, with some participants left scratching their heads while cohesion vacates the building.
However, JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson 2nd ‘tribute’ series offering (tribute #1 paid homage to John Lennon’s sorely missed 80th birthday) delivers a solid rocking swag of well-crafted interpretations of Brian’s music heavily dripping with the 60s influenced jangly guitar and garage rock vibe, representative of JEM’s “sound”.
Left free to select their own tracks, JEM’s featured artists mine the gold of The Beach Boys Classic Capitol ’63-’70 period, the sole exception a version of Brian’s staple anthem “Love & Mercy.”
My top marks easily go to The Grip Weeds for their Psych Rock reimagining of a “Heroes & Villains” that morphs into “Rock Plymouth Roll”, and back again! It’s a powerful rendition showcasing a deep understanding, knowledge, and reverence for the source material – I bet someone in this group owns a light-up SMiLE Sessions box – and offers a considered “what could have been” arrangement that blends the best ideas of both tunes.
The Anderson Council is not far behind with their power-pop rock-out of Wild Honey deep cut “I’d Love Just Once To See You,” which easily compliments their earlier skin pounding and guitar effect laced take on “Girl Don’t Tell Me.” Both pay great and unique homages to Brian’s music.
UK act The Gold Needles conjure a deft Psych Pop take on “Love and Mercy” that eschews Brian’s contemporary “hymn” like performances and offers a version perhaps closer to pop stylings intended for Brian’s solo album.
The Gold Needles also borrow from the introductory sounds of The Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever” – which leads me to mention this collection weaves healthy doses of the FABs various styles into these tunes – with one-act, The Weeklings, going so far as sneaking a goofy nod to Lennon’s “HELP” lyrics into their bluesy “Help Me, Rhonda.”
These very same Weeklings also open proceedings via a brief vocal rendition of “The Warmth Of The Sun”. Drawing on the curtain opening approach Brian envisioned for Smile’s “Our Prayer”, and the band also used on Friends mood-setting lead track, “Meant For You”, The Weeklings quickly demonstrate the fresh approaches and deep understanding of The Beach Boys catalog we will hear across this collection.
There are a couple of more “straight-up” workman-like indie rock covers tinged with a ‘Beatlesque’ sound that are less exploratory but no less well crafted. These tunes ensure this collection hones in on that other vital element of the great man’s music – Fun! Johnathan Pushkar playfully cameos “Do You Wanna Dance” into his version of “Dance, Dance Dance”; it could be a clever cross-reference to Brian’s ’60s production prowess or just a case of letting the good times roll. Only Midnight Callers Glam Rock take on “Do It Again,” replete with an echoey drum fade-in answers to Stephen Desper’s sci-fi original intro, defies The Beatles, with shades of Bowie meets US Punk coming to the fore.
Lisa Mychols and Super 8 struggle with their cover of “Don’t Worry Baby.” Presented in the Girl Group style of “Leader of The Pack,” it was a great idea that drags when it should glide.
BUT please don’t write this pair off too soon: their “side 2” album closer “Pet Sounds Story” – a wigged-out Cinema-Scope compendium of various BB song lyrics/titles replete with gender inversions, sung over the “Pet Sounds” instrumental – finds them redemptively regaining the inspiration, energy, and playfulness their label mates found in exploring Brian’s music.
Anyone who is a fan of tight harmonies, and Rickenbacker guitar rock tinged with shades of The Byrds, The Who, early Bangles (via Richard Barone’s excellent “In My Room”) and The Smithereens will find this a great listen, and perhaps, like me, be compelled to further drill down on the JEM’s surprising roster of fine indie fare.
The Weeklings – “The Warmth of the Sun,” “Help Me, Rhonda”
The Grip Weeds – “You’re So Good To Me”
Nick Piunti – “Hang On To Your Ego”
Jonathan Pushkar – “Dance, Dance, Dance”
The Gold Needles – “Love and Mercy”
The Anderson Council – “Girl Don’t Tell Me”
Lisa Mychols and Super 8 – “Don’t Worry Baby”
The Grip Weeds – “Heroes & Villains/Rock Plymouth Roll”
Richard Barone – “In My Room”
Midnight Callers – “Do It Again”
Richard Barone and Johnathan Pushkar – “I Get Around”
The Anderson Council – “I’d Love For Just Once To See You”
Johnathan Pushkar – “Please Let Me Wander”
Lisa Mychols and Super 8 – “Pet Sounds (Story)”
Available July 16, 2021, preorders available via Amazon