BORN AND RAISED
A successful purveyor of pop and blues-rock for most of his career, singer-guitarist John Mayer tells listeners where his new album is coming from in the lyrics of its opening song. “Looking for the sun that Neil Young hung after the gold rush of 1971,” he sings in “Queen of California.”
Born and Raised mines the laid-back introspection of American music in the early ’70s. It’s heard in Mayer’s Young-ish harmonica and acoustic guitar strumming and Allman Brothers-based dual guitar leads. And his country-soul singing gets vocal backup in title song “Born and Raised” from two principals of ’70s California music, David Crosby and Graham Nash.
Walking an acoustic guitar-based road throughout the album, the earnest as ever Mayer works with a minimal band (including Allman Brothers and Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell) that’s perfect for the project. Pedal steel appearances by Greg Leisz also help make Born and Raised miles more rootsy and warm than what’s marketed as country music these days.
The Beach Boys
THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO
Brian Wilson painted audio masterpieces in the past, the most obvious of them being the 1966 Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds. The 50th anniversary Beach Boys reunion is yielding another opus from Wilson, the formerly reclusive architect of the group’s sound whose creative renaissance began in the late 1990s. That’s Why God Made the Radio, the new Beach Boys album, is a work of much beauty that easily outclasses most of the other pop music made in the past 50 years.
The album, to be released Tuesday, June 5, features Wilson and the two other original surviving Beach Boys, singer Mike Love and singer-guitarist Al Jardine. Early Beach Boys guitarist David Marks and longtime band member Bruce Johnston climb aboard, too. Wilson, the last of the three Wilson brothers who performed with the original Beach Boys lineup, produced and co-wrote 11 of the 12 selections.
That’s Why God Made the Radio contains multisectioned songs, orchestral arrangements and ornate vocal arrangements of the kind that distinguished Pet Sounds and other Beach Boys recordings from the usually much less ambitious music of their peers. And its pristine, meticulous production more than rivals the groups’ ’60s recordings.
Wilson sings lead for title track “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” expressing his near religious reverence for what radio meant to him in the 1950s and early ’60s. Obviously before focus groups, severely restricted playlists and global media corporations.
“Radio was my education,” he says in a Capitol Records release. “Chuck Berry, Rosemary Clooney, the Four Freshman, Little Richard … .”
Nostalgia runs through the album, especially the lush “Isn’t It Time,” one of two songs co-written by Wilson and Love. Wilson, Love, Jardine, Johnston and a longtime Beach Boys collaborator, Jeffrey Foskett, who performs the high vocal parts that the late Carl Wilson previously sang on stage, all sing for “Isn’t It Time,” a song that contains a dreamy Pet Sounds-style interlude.
The music, themes and vibe of That’s Why God Made the Radio are such that it’s difficult to believe these are new songs. But the passage of time is evident in the lyrics’ acceptance and keen awareness that the decades have rushed irretrievably by.
“Shelter,” with its trombone, French horn and harpsichord, dramatic percussion and intricate vocal arrangement, is another of Wilson’s pop symphonies. It’s also an acknowledgement of one of his musical inspirations, Phil Spector. “Spring Vacation” may refer to the band’s reunion, albeit tongue-in-cheek.
“Spring vacation, good vibrations, summer weather,” Wilson sings. “We’re back together. Easy money, ain’t life funny.”
The island-flavored “The Private Life of Bill and Sue” is among the recording’s lighter pieces but it, too, has a sophisticated arrangement, including resonant baritone sax, vibes and timpani.
Following mellow rocker “Beaches In Mind,” the album’s final four songs all have orchestral string arrangements. “From There To Back Again” and “Pacific Coast Highway” could be Pet Sounds outtakes. “Summer’s Gone,” featuring oboe, flute, French horn, vibes, strings and waves of vocals, ends an album that more often takes a sunny, nostalgic route of the kind heard in the band’s 1968 summer hit, “Do It Again,” with atypical melancholy.
“Our dreams hold on for those who still have more to say,” Wilson, the Beach Boy who dropped out for decades, sings. “It’s time to go; I’m thinking maybe I’ll just stay.”
A POSTCARD FROM CALIFORNIA
Issued two months before the just-released Beach Boys reunion album, Al Jardine’s solo debut has many of the qualities you’d expect from this original Beach Boy. Jardine writes and sings about the sea, his beloved Pacific Coast’s natural beauty, cars and, naturally, love.
Jardine and his roomful of guest stars sing rich vocal ensembles of the kind so identified with the Beach Boys. Fellow Beach Boys Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, David Marks and, the late Wilson brother who possessed the group’s most beautiful voice, Carl, all contribute. Other guests include Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Steve Miller and one-time Beach Boy Glen Campbell.
“Don’t Fight the Sea,” an urgent song more at the rock end of things, features Jardine and Carl Wilson’s lead vocals and most of the other Beach Boys singing background. Jardine and Neil Young share vocals in “California Saga,” an echo of the Sons of the Pioneers’ odes to the American West. Carl Wilson also sings in “Waves of Love,” a happy, dreamy love song that, while not the album’s best production, has that classic Beach Boys vibe. A few superfluous performances show up, too (especially Alec Baldwin’s spoken-word performance of “Tidepool Interlude”), but Jardine’s lovingly crafted, if uneven, Postcard is both his solo album and a California pop and rock music reunion.