November 15, 1995
Steve Forbert, Mission of the Crossroad Palms (Giant/Paladin 1995) - Chalk this up as the best album that you didn't hear on radio this year. For the 12 songs of Mission of the Crossroad Palms, rocker Steve Forbert has patterned an album that touches on emotions ranging from grief, regret, resolve to romance, all shaded by Forbert's raspy, folk-tinged vocals. The result is an album that gets better every time you listen to it.
Now 15 years into his career, Mission of the Crossroad Palms is Forbert's seventh album, which started with his acclaimed 1979 debut, Jack Rabbit Slim, and continued through two recent releases on Geffen - Streets of this Town (1988) and The American in Me (1992). Though Forbert creates strong and evocative images framed by disarming tales of lost innocence and reflection, he's never found the audience he deserves.
For the new record, Forbert assembled a terrific studio band, including Garry Tallent (from the E-Street Band) on bass, Benmont Tench (from the Heartbreakers) on keyboards, Clay Barnes on guitar, and Muscle Shoals alum Roger Clark on drums. Because of this gifted group, the album has miles of that elusive quality that players call "Feel."
The album sparkles with wistfully great songs, including the bittersweet love song "Lay Down Your Weary Tune Again," the uptempo road rocker "So Good to Feel Good Again" (and a damn fine song it is), and the mystical "Oh, To Be Back With You."
The Mississippi-bred Forbert deserves a much wider audience. With his songs about betrayal and frustration, about evil and the redemptive power of love, and about the crises of faith that are met by every adult who hasn't switched off the lights, Forbert touches something in each of us. Mission of the Crossroad Palms is an enormously rewarding album, and one of the year's best.
Brian Wilson, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times (MCA 1995) - Chameleon man Don Was scores again with I Just Wasn't Made for These Times. Was has a knack for helping middle-aged stars find their way again (as he did on Willie Nelson's comeback, Across the Border); he also has produced some completely forgettable studio fluff.
On I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, Wilson and Was have dug deep in Brian's catalog of songs to recreate some of Wilson's most intimate tunes, including the Beach Boys' 1963 hit "The Warmth of the Sun" (written in tribute to John F. Kennedy) and "Til I Die" (from the Beach Boys' overlooked 1971 LP, Surf's Up). It's no understatement to say that Brian Wilson is a genius. His songwriting skills are legendary, and his studio technique was trailblazing. Forget all the BS from the mean-spirited Mike Love; Brian was the brains behind the band.
The genesis for this album occurred in 1989, when Was met Brian Wilson. Says Was, "When we started to mess around in the studio, it became clear that he was capable of making a record every bit as complex and beautiful as Pet Sounds whenever he felt like it. How could a talent so great be so misunderstood and under-appreciated?"
To assist Brian, Was assembled an all-star band, including Jim Keltner on drums, James "Hutch" Hutchinson on bass, Benmont Tench on keyboards, Mark Goldenberg and Waddy Wachtel on guitars, and Andrew Gold and Sweet Pea Atkinson on background vocals.
The new album was released in connection with the one-hour Disney documentary of the same name. The film is really an hors d'oeuvre; tasty, but not filling. One hour simply couldn't cover Brian's life; nor could it cover his music. By trying to cover both, it failed to achieve either.
However, there are touching moments in the film, such as when Brian speaks about his life and music (although his facial expressions lead to the conclusion that years of powerful psychotropic drugs have had a detrimental effect).
My favorite segment is the clip from Linda Ronstadt, who recounts a studio experience involving Brian's inability to work out a harmony vocal. Frustrated, he went to the piano, where he pounded out a Chicago blues boogie, all the while telling himself "gotta do it, gotta do it." Two minutes later, he returned to the microphone, having perfected the arrangement in his head.
If I Just Wasn't Made for These Times doesn't convince you that Brian Wilson is a rare talent, then you'll never get it. For example, the album includes beautifully subdued versions of "Love and Mercy" and "Melt Away," both from Brian's under-appreciated self-titled solo album from 1988.
Also included is an absolutely heart-rendering version of "Caroline, No" (from Pet Sounds). There are several stories concerning the subject matter of the song, but Brian's first wife, the long-suffering Marilyn, seems to get closest to the truth: The song was written about Brian's estrangement from Marilyn, and reflected his shock when she cut her hair short.
The highlight of the album is "Do It Again," a top 20 hit for the Beach Boys in 1968. On this cut, a rejuvenated Wilson is joined by his daughters, Carnie and Wendy (two/thirds of the late Williams/Phillips) in an energetic and emotional version that sounds, quite fittingly, like a new beginning for Brian.
Listen closely to "Do It Again," and you'll be in for a surprise: the opening bass intro riff is a slowed-down version of "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran. If you don't believe me, play the two songs side by side. There's no mistaking the similarity.
Brian is a fascinatingly complex and talented human being. Though badly damaged emotionally, he has huge reserves of talent. I Just Wasn't Made for These Times bogs down at times (on songs such as "The Warmth of the Sun," and "Wonderful"), but its high points are brilliant. If you haven't discovered the genius of the Beach Boys (and I mean that sincerely), start with Absolute Best: Volume I on Capitol; if you already know Brian, then you'll find the new album greatly rewarding.
-- Randy Krbechek
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