Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dennis Wilson "Bambu"

I recently picked up the new deluxe edition of Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, the 1977 solo album from the late Beach Boys drummer. The remastering job done on the CD is very good. The album could be described as a '70's variation on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, but with much grittier vocals. Although I am still not a great admirer of the album (as many others seem to be), it was worthwhile to upgrade to CD from my ancient cassette copy. It is now easier to appreciate the musical arrangements, although Dennis' worn and ragged singing voice is still a flaw in my view. "River Song", "What's Wrong", "Time", and "You And I" are tracks that I am happy to program my CD player to play, sometimes repeatedly. In addition to the 12 original album tracks, the Pacific Ocean Blue disc features four bonus tracks. Two of them, "Tug Of Love" and "Only With You", are basically more of the same. The other two bonus tracks, "Holy Man" and "Mexico", are both gently affecting instrumentals -- and the latter is strangely reminiscent of King Crimson's "In The Court of the Crimson King".

The thing that interested me most about this reissue is that it features a second disc which contains the recordings that were made for Dennis' unreleased second solo album, titled Bambu. Although this album is considered unfinished, most of the sixteen tracks sound almost as fully realized as Pacific Ocean Blue. The only songs with a hint of being unfinished are the abruptly ending "Are You Real", the thin "Album Tag Song", the instrumental "Common", and perhaps "Piano Variations On Thoughts Of You", which really should have been a bonus track on the first disc. Also, there are presumably some missing recordings from the Bambu sessions. It has often been noted that a number of the songs on the Beach Boys' L.A. (Light Album) from 1979 were originally intended to become part of Bambu, but "Love Surrounds Me" is the only one that appears in any form on this disc.

Bambu is largely in the same vein as Pacific Ocean Blue, especially the tracks which Dennis again co-wrote with Gregg Jakobson. However, Dennis' voice tends to be less of a liability in this case. His gruff voice seems to blend better with the arrangements in this case, which is probably a result of modern mixing technology. The best songs on the disc (namely, the first two) were written by frequent Beach Boys sideman Carli Munoz. "Under the Moonlight" is a bright opening number, and the emotional chorus of the ballad "It's Not Too Late" is sung by Dennis' brother Carl. This moving contribution by Carl is one of the high points of the whole set.

The Bambu disc features one very noteworthy bonus track. Taylor Hawkins, who is best known as the drummer for the Foo Fighters, was commissioned to write and sing lyrics for "Holy Man", the instrumental from the first disc. Hawkins did a surprisingly good job with the song, and his vocal mimicry of Dennis is quite eerie. All in all, this second disc makes the set worthwhile even if (like me) you think Pacific Ocean Blue is overrated.