File under oddities that kind of work: George and Ira Gershwin and Brian Wilson all have their places in the ranks of great American songwriters, but the urbane sophistication of the former and the sun-dazed lushness of the latter don’t seem like a natural fit. Yet Wilson, who cites George Gershwin as one of his earliest influences—Wilson produced a version of “Summertime” for Sharon Marie in the early ’60s—gives it his all on the new collection Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. Here, he covers Gershwin offerings both familiar and obscure, including a pair of songs he fleshed out and gave new lyrics. The results rarely shed new light on either composer, but they make for a pleasant-enough marriage.
The best tracks draw heavily on the Beach Boys’ mid-’60s peak, though sometimes at the cost of sounding more like Wilson creations than Gershwin tunes. A particular highlight, “Someone To Watch Over Me,” gets reworked with the clopping percussion, harpsichords, and harmonies of a Pet Sounds outtake. Reimagines, which too often relies on strings to do the heavy lifting, could use a few more such moments, particularly since its vulnerable lyrics give Wilson one of the few moments that play to his strengths as a singer. The sly wit of “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” for instance, gets away from him; Wilson voice doesn’t carry irony easily. Of the two new tracks, “Nothing But Love” suffocates in adult-contemporary blandness, but “The Like In I Love You” sounds like what might have happened if Wilson and Gershwin sat down together and decided to break listeners’ hearts. That’s a bit too rare an accomplishment to make Reimagines a success, but the moments that find hidden connections between two great songwriters make it worth a listen.