MusiCares Presents:
A Tribute To Brian Wilson

Various Artists

The MusiCares Foundation is a charitable arm of the Recording Academy that, according its web site, “directly impacts the health and welfare of the music community.” The foundation's programs include emergency financial assistance, addiction recovery, outreach and leadership activities, and senior housing. In the process, the foundation honors famous musicians each year for their success and activism (solemn acts of kindness) for issues outside the music world. The ceremony for “Person of the Year” is a concert event featuring a stable of guest stars performing the honored artist’s music. In 2007, it was Don Henley; 2006, it was James Taylor. In 2005, for what turned out to be an astoundingly unique show, MusiCares’ Person of the Year was Beach Boy visionary Brian Wilson. And as with other concerts of this magnitude, a DVD of the highlights is in the offering called MusiCare Presents: A Tribute To Brian Wilson.

While it may be hard to imagine that Brian Wilson has done much outside of making music aside from just surviving — he has, in fact, generously donated his time and support to the Carl Wilson Foundation for Cancer Research, the Adopt-A-Minefield Benefit, and Neil Young’s Bridge School Concerts. The loopy cast on hand for the concert stretches the parameters of who you would or wouldn't expect to successfully pull off a Brian Wilson/Beach Boys’ song. The Red Hot Chili Peppers give a careful and restrained performance of “I Get Around.” Bon Jovi guitarist Ritchie Sambora aspires towards a modest job of recreating Eric Clapton’s guitar parts on “City Blues” from Wilson’s 2004 Gettin' In Over My Head album. The celebration gets livelier for a rollicking version of the classic “Sail On Sailor,” featuring British pianist/vocalist Jamie Cullum with Fred Martin and The Levite Camp. Surprisingly, John Legend is equally on target with a stoic reading of “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”

It’s time to hit the sand and surf when Shelby Lynne intones her emotive, angelic voice on an otherwise uneventful “Surfer Girl.” Michael McDonald and Billy Preston, in one his latest performances, inject a much needed shot of raw soul as they effortlessly breeze through “Don’t Worry Baby.” In a bold move, Jeff Beck appears for two numbers. As he did with the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life,” the fluid, reckless Beckonian guitar lines straddle the melody on “Surf’s Up” like shards of glass piercing holes in a pneumatic bunion. Then the mop-topped guitarist reverts to rockabilly/surf mode for “Surfin’ U.S.A.”

The Brian Wilson Band, who backs every guest star, runs through a nifty little instrumental segment from Pet Sounds. Boasting an expanded roster of what could number into the hundreds, the Brian Wilson Band functions as an undercurrent that carries and executes Wilson on a wave of musical refinement. Why on earth would he want to reunite with Mike Love when the singers in his band can hit every note without the flurries of narcissistic fibrosis?

The grand finale finds Wilson stiffly cue-card reading through a quick and rehearsed speech, then scooting off to the comfort zone and refuge of his keyboard. He and his band drop anchor and jump into the deep end, The Boy Genius of Hawthorne snaps away wildly for a picture-perfect “Heroes And Villains.” “Good Vibrations” and “Fun Fun Fun” join the party in all their splendiferous frivolity. In grand style, The Person of the Year and various guests finish up the proceedings with a light and lilting “Love And Mercy.” Bonus materials include a Behind The Scenes documentary — mostly interviews with random guest stars of the concert, praising the virtues of MusicCares and Brian Wilson songs. It’s all pretty self-serving stuff, but proceeds from the sales of the DVD go to a worthy cause. The music on the DVD more than squares the deal.

~ Shawn Perry

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