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September 2002 Pick of the Month

Making God Smile
Artist: Various
Label: Silent Planet Records
Disc One Length: 17 tracks / 64:07
Disc Two Length: 9 tracks / 33:58

Silent Planet Records knows how to throw a good birthday party.  While Hit Radio is populated with boy bands and midriff girls who are younger than your car, Brian Wilson turned 60 years old this summer.  And although many young VH1-watchers may only recognize Wilson as that guy the Barenaked Ladies sang about, Wilson's innovation and influence in rock music cannot be denied.  With Making God Smile, Silent Planet has assembled more than twenty artists to pay tribute to this legendary  singer/songwriter/producer with renditions of his songs that are often both true to the original and fresh at the same time.

Phil Keaggy's version of "Good Vibrations" is spot-on accurate from the vocal layering down to the way the drums were mic'ed.  Keaggy explains in the liner notes that the theramin sound was replicated with a guitar and vocal mix.  Kevin Max & Jimmy A's U2-inspired version of "Help Me Rhonda" is given a fresh spin, and Terry Taylor digs up a whimsical rare gem, "Vegetables."

Another stand-out on the album is Jan Krist's rendition of "Wouldn't it Be Nice." In the liner notes, Krist explains the significance of the song to her, as she recounts her experience watching the movie "Roger and Me" with her husband, and the ironic touch this song gave as a background to the scenes of run-down, desolate streets in Flint, Michigan. 

Jason Harrod and Darrick Harris add reverent versions of "In My Room" and "Don't Worry Baby," respectively, and Brooks Williams gives us an inspired rendition of the title track of what many have called the best record ever, Pet Sounds.

The second disc, available from the Silent Planet website (the single-disc version is available in stores), features alternate edits of the first two songs from disc one, plus Harrod & Funck's "Brian Wilson's Room."  Among the remaining six songs are wonderful renditions of Wilson and Beach Boys songs such as Frank Lenz & Richard Swift's version of "Caroline, No," the Lost Dogs' a cappella cover of "With me Tonight," and Jacob Lawson & Riki Michele's take of "Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)."

The second disc is half as long as the first, and although the music is brilliant, the distribution between the two discs seems a bit odd, especially considering the alternate edits. Despite this small detraction, Making God Smile is as good a tribute album as has been released in some time, and Wilson is a most deserving subject. Great care was obviously taken in researching and recording these songs, and it is evident that each of these artists is grateful for Wilson and what he has meant to music over the
last 40-plus years.  The album's title is a tribute itself, both to the unreleased Beach Boys record, Smile, and to the spirituality evident in Wilson's music (Wilson called Smile a "teenage symphony to God.")

Making God Smile should be on the must-have list of any fan of the Beach Boys or Brian Wilson. For those unfamiliar with the musical seeds Wilson has planted in the world of pop and rock, this album is a great place to start. With any luck, it will inspire a peak in sales of Wilson's catalog. 

Happy birthday, Brian Wilson.

Dave Kerschbaum - 4 August 2002

In honor of tunesmith Brian Wilson's sixtieth birthday, the folks at Silent Planet records have put together a pretty decent tribute album.  While most tribute albums tend to be pretty uneven affairs, this one, with few exceptions, is quite good.  The large majority of the tunes are from the Beach Boys catalog, including the "lost" album Smile, while a few are from Wilson's solo work in later years.  The first disc features some nice work from Tom Prasada-Rao with Amilia K. Spicer, Sixpence None the Richer, Aaron Sprinkle, Kevin Max & Jimmy A ("Help Me Rhonda"), Jason Harrod ("In My Room"), Terry Scott Taylor ("Vegetables"), Derrick Harris (a sweet rendition of "Don't Worry Baby"), and Brooks Williams (a finely strummed acoustic guitar version of "Pet Sounds").  Also featured on the disc are Phil Keaggy (who does a pretty amazing copy of "Good Vibrations"), Randy Stonehill, Kate Campbell, Phil Madeira, Doug Powell, Dolour, Jan Krist, Jane Kelly Williams, and Rick Altizer.

The second bonus disc, available for a limited time only from Paste Music, features a great version of "Caroline, No" from Frank Lenz and Richard Swift, followed by the beautiful harmonies of the Lost Dogs on "With Me Tonight."  Also of note on disc two are the offerings from Jeff Elbel + Ping and Kate Miner.  Also featured are Jacob Lawson & Riki Michele, and a few others including some remixes of songs from disc one, and an original tune from Harrod & Funck ("Brian Wilson's Room").

Unfortunately some of the songs on disc two should probably replace a few on disc one to make for a better single CD release.  But no one asked for my input.

Ken Mueller 8/4/02 

I can remember back in 1964 wandering the halls of the local high school in my sophomore year with two other guys trying to perfect the harmonies to "In My Room" by the Beach Boys. Fortunately for the rest of the world that is as far as my singing career ever went. Also fortunately that was just the tip of the iceberg concerning the music of Brian Wilson. Although my personal taste has always run toward the more avant garde forms of music, I've always been a sucker for a good harmony, and harmony and melody is where Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys were unsurpassed. From "Sloop John B." to "Good Vibrations" to "Caroline, No", the Beach Boys under the leadership of  Brian were the kings of harmony. Just about every artist who sits down to write a harmony driven song today owes a debt in part to Brian.

Silent Planet Records in honor of Brian's 60th birthday has put together an artist's tribute to the music of Beach Boy Brian Wilson. This is without a doubt the perfect summer release of this year or any other for that matter. The majority of the music on this tribute comes from the era that gave us the "Pet Sounds" album and the legendary unreleased "Smile" project. While trying to stay true to the original recording, each of the artists involved has taken these songs and made it their own. Phil Keaggy has stated that "Good Vibrations" is some of the best singing that he has done in years. Leigh Nash along with Sixpence None The Richer is absolutely perfect on  "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times". Derrick Harris is amazing on "Don't Worry Baby" and Kevin Max & Jimmy A. turn in a superb "Help Me Rhonda." 

If this were just a one disc release, that would make anyone happy. If you get it through Paste Music a second nine song disc is included with cuts by such artists as Frank Lenz & Richard Swift, Lost Dogs, Kate Miner, Jeff Elbel & Ping, Jacob Lawson & Riki Michele, and the legendary Irwin Icon. The cover art for the project is by Kurt Lightner and is based on what was to be the cover for "Smile". Each of the songs included contains in the booklet a quote from the artist involved. My favorite is from Frank Lenz & Richard Swift, it says in part: "Long live Brian Wilson, long live music, swift death to MTV". For me, I think that just about sums it up.

Chris MacIntosh aka Grandfather Rock 8/11/2002

When a project of the magnitude of Making God Smile is undertaken, the result is often unsatisfactory to those who are fans of the originals.  But alas, this two CD tribute to Brian Wilson was refreshing and well put together.  

The interpretations of Brian’s songs ranged from fairly direct reproductions (“Good Vibrations” by Phil Keaggy) to the slightly strange and experimental (“Help Me Rhonda” by Kevin Max and Jimmy A).   While each artist who participated in this project took a different approach, it is obvious from the finished project that there was a shared respect for the life work of this Beach Boy.

This album is a solid venture, and there are no songs that are a real disappointment; however, a number of tracks stand out from the crowd.  Kate Miner’s rendition of  “God Only Knows” is sweet and sincere enough to bring tears to your eyes, Jason Harrod brings new life to “In My Room,” and it is just fun to hear Terry Scott Taylor doing “Vegetables.”  

A person couldn't ask for more out of a Brian Wilson tribute, and anyone who has fond memories of the Beach Boys and Brian will get great joy out of this album.

Trilisa M. Perrine  10/7/2002



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