“A concept album with a Negro slave spiritual theme song” may sound like an obscure plan for a pop record. But when it’s Brian Wilson’s idea, and he has a track record of famously off-beat concept albums like “Pet Sounds” and “SMiLe,” you give him the benefit of the doubt.
The former Beach Boys leader’s latest work is “That Lucky Old Sun,” an aural homage to southern California that uses the title track, a 1940s song made famous by Frankie Laine and Louis Armstrong, as a recurring theme, cutting in between the songs and spoken word segments by Van Dyke Parks. Wilson, 66, who was born and raised in Hawthorne, Calif., says he felt it was a fertile subject
“It’s where I lived,” he explains. “It’s where I grew up ... The restaurants, the record shops, the sightseeing places, it’s just a beautiful state, and I wanted to sing about it.”
They’re not Wilson’s words, however. He tapped Scott Bennett, a longtime member of his band, to pen most of the lyrics for “That Lucky Old Sun,” which debuted at No. 21 on the Billboard 200 in September. Bennett responded with songs that were both impressionistic and, in the case of “Southern California,” clearly autobiographical, telling the story of the Beach Boys as well as Wilson’s own trials with drug addictions and mental illness.
“I just wanted (Bennett) to write about California, and he went and did it,” says Wilson, who has five children from his two marriages. “I didn’t tell him anything. He writes what he wants to write ... I actually had a good time singing these, all of these.”
Brian Wilson performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 12) at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $89.50 and $49.50. Call (734) 668-8463 or visit www.michtheater.org. Wilson will sign autographs at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at Borders Books & Music, 612 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor.
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