Friday, March 27, 2015

Review - "Sail Away" - Brian Wilson (featuring Blondie Chaplin & Al Jardine)

The third track from Brian’s album to be (sort of) released, “Sail Away” stands out as the strongest yet. It seems the pattern of unveiling tracks from “No Pier Pressure” involves an emphasis on the tracks featuring guest stars. While the previous two tracks (“The Right Time” and “Runaway Dancer”) have been made available for purchase online, “Sail Away” has thus far only been made available via an exclusive online stream (on the Wall Street Journal website of all places; it seems each new track is being “premiered” via a different website).

The track features Blondie Chaplin and Al Jardine joining Brian on lead vocals. While “The Right Time” was essentially nearly a Jardine track penned by Brian, “Sail Away” features a trade-off among all three lead vocalists. Blondie takes the first group of verses while Brian takes the second go around. Al sings all of the choruses more or less. There are times when he and Brian’s voices both seem to sing together on the chorus, along with group vocals that pop in and out. Much like the “That’s Why God Made the Radio” album, the style of mixing often features lead vocalists overlapping or doubling, and sometimes it all gets churned together with other backing vocals. It’s a sometimes frustrating mixing style, to meld lead vocalists together (we’re not talking about two-part harmony), but that’s only present here and there.

The song itself is a delightful mid-temp bouncy pop song; a bit of “sea chanty” style is thrown into the mix arrangement wise. Many have noted some similarities to “Sloop John B”, although I would say the only obvious reference to “Sloop” is the flute riff heard several times during the song. As always, there are intermittent robust backing vocals. The falsetto vocalist isn’t super evident; it doesn’t sound overtly Foskettian (it will be interesting to see how much of Jeff Foskett’s 2013 vocal work ends up being held over on the album), and the live “Soundstage” take sounds similar enough that it could be Matt Jardine on the studio version as well. (It’s unclear if Brian Eichenberger, who stood in for the falsetto parts at all of the post-July shows in 2014, was part of any studio sessions).

Blondie’s vocal is deep and robust. Al once again shines, stealing the show with a pristine lead vocal. Brian sings in the same register as Blondie on his turn, and the vocal sounds heartfelt and in a sweet spot range-wise for Brian. All in all, this is the best of the tracks that have been released. The song itself is nice, the vocals are top notch, and one can’t help but feel some warm feelings hearing these three guys trade off on vocals.

No, this doesn’t sound like it could have been on “Holland” or anything. This sounds like the kind of stuff Brian writes and arranges now. More and more, it’s becoming a surprisingly simple yet ingenious move for Brian to essentially use a variety of lead vocalists as tools/instruments to flesh out his musical ideas. It becomes the most awesome of fringe benefits that it allows some great vocalists to be heard who haven’t heard as much lately, like Blondie and Al. The songs don’t sound like they’ve been written to set up a contrived “Duets” format. Rather, it sounds like Brian’s writing songs and not worrying about changing the key, and is seeking out vocalists who can realize what he’s writing.

Whether it’s coincidence or not, Brian seems to lately enjoy a group format in some way or another. One of the best parts of the 50th Anniversary was that Brian didn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. But he was still able to participate, and still able to form all the musical ideas behind the scenes. It may be that he was still in this frame of mind after the demise of the reunion, and followed this idea to its next logical conclusion. It was of course an additional potential selling point/angle that he would be able to integrate younger artists into the fold. That he also used old timers like fellow Beach Boys as well speaks to the idea that Brian wants the best vessel for his musical ideas rather than a contrived “Duets” album.

"Sail Away" is also available to view on YouTube via the live "Soundstage" performance. Again, it looks like a marvelous show.

No comments:

Post a Comment