Thursday, October 19, 2017

Indigenous Artists: Kevin Red Star - Apsaalooke Interpreter by Peter Reum

Here in Montana, there are numerous Indigenous People organized culturally into tribes. Every tribe has strong traditional beliefs that guide the manner in which the tribe interacts with the world both internally and externally. Tribes that are recognized as sovereign nations have a history of living in what is now Montana for centuries. All tribes have unique languages, spiritual beliefs, and a land area they call their homeland. Numerous tribes have interacted with each other either as allies or as enemies, usually because of a conflicting claim for lands that both historically have occupied. The current cohesiveness of Indigenous People is a strength that all tribes value and strive to maintain. In my opinion, central to each tribe as far as having a unified population revolves around at least four factors that must be present partially if not completely.

The first factor is having land that is  historically inhabited by the tribe. There are numerous tribes in the American West who occupy at least a portion of the area they consider their ancestral home. Perhaps the tribes that excel in this factor the best are the Pueblos, Apaches, and Di'neh tribes of the Southwestern United States. Other tribes that at least partially occupy their historical homelands are the Seminoles in Florida, the Cherokee in North Carolina, the Blackfoot, Apsalooke, and Northern  Cheyenne in Montana, and the Tlinget and Inuit Peoples of Alaska.

A second factor is the quality of life of members of a given tribe. There are several factors that can be placed into consideration regarding quality of life. The first could be the quality of education of children in the tribe. A sense of identity and unity should be present in young people who are tribal members.  There should be a shared language that is traditional. Although the English language is the most utilized in the U.S.A., the heritage of any given tribe begins in the shared culture that avails itself only in a tribe's traditional language. A tribe's spiritual traditions rest in their oral traditions as expressed in their shared beliefs. The closer a given tribe is to the landmarks that it considers sacred, the more likely they are to express traditional spirituality. Hence, there are traditional spiritual sites that various Indigenous traditional tribes believe are sacred.

The third factor that could be considered as a factor germane to quality of life is the economic and collective physical and mental health of a tribe. This particular factor is probably the one that can be most useful in helping other parts of quality of life flourish. If a tribal member's employment is reliable and predictable,  many of the other elements of a healthy quality of life will be better off. The rural nature of many tribes'  homelands makes year round employment elusive, with tribes' scrambling to identify lucrative businesses to locate on tribal lands. Rural healthcare of various tribes is difficult due to several years of healthcare funding on reservations and larger cities nationwide.

The fourth factor, which is somewhat elusive to describe, is the expression of fine arts and music for any given tribe. Fine arts reflect what any given tribal member perceives is his or her view of how healthy or unhealthy the tribe's existence is. Through all of the tribes in this country, art, dancing, and music are the spiritual glue that unify the tribes' picture of themselves. The artists in each tribe bring a vision of life that reflects a collective picture in real time. The importance of fine arts in tribal life has been recognized at the federal level through several forms of expression or training that reflect the quality of life in a given tribe. Music, dancing, pottery, jewelry, paintings,  and textile weaving are examples of this quality of life factor. At times, the differing art forms reflect how a tribe views themselves.

My personal interests in different tribes' quality of life has centered upon appreciating the spiritual traditions that make each tribe unique. While there are many tribes that share common ideas, they are more related on a macro level than a smaller, microcosmic level. As an example, nearly every tribe has a belief in a creator. This is not necessarily a belief in a god who demands prayer and adoration in exchange for life blessings. The role of the Creator in Indigenous life varies from tribe to tribe. Some tribes venerate their ancestors, believing that their presence is constant, and that their presence brings blessings or hardships. The evil spirits are seen to be the source of illness or life setbacks to the whole tribe, families, or individuals. Dancing and drumming is prayer to the Creator.

The art that any tribe produces is a function of spirituality. There is no dichotomy in place between the sacred and the profane. Even if a type of art is produced for people outside the tribe, the spirituality of the art that is created remains with the piece of art itself. These are somewhat gross generalizations,  but many non Indigenous artists hold similar beliefs. Some writers or composers experience writer's block, and see their problem as a symptom of blocked spiritual creativity. Although this sounds somewhat off kilter in Western Thought, the experience these creative folks feels like an internal voice or spirit has gone silent. For many Indigenous artists, the connection between spiritual creativity and prayer to the Creator is unbreakable.

The government saw that creative artists among the Indigenous tribes were self-taught. Some were  extremely successful, and many were not. This was not a measure of the value of the art itself. The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) was established in Santa Fe, New Mexico  for the expressed purpose of helping talented Indigenous artists to channel their talents into one or more media forms that marry their creative spirit with the possibility of making their art talent into a career path. Needless to say, the commercial or business side of the artistic process is often the most disliked aspect of the creation of works of art by young writers, composers, and fine arts creative people. This aspect of "selling myself as an artist worth taking seriously" is addressed in courses taught at IAIA.

One Indigenous artist who was in the first cohort of young people to enter IAIA is Kevin Red Star. Mr. Red Star has distinguished himself as an imaginative interpreter of Apsaalooke (Crow) life. Mr. Red Star has been focused upon the lifestyles of the Apsaalooke People, both in the present time, and in the past. Mr. Red Star's work medium is usually paint, and his artistic pieces have nearly all been depictions of past and present tribal life in the Apsaalooke Nation. He is the subject of a book by Daniel Gibson and Kitty Leaken entitled Kevin Red Star - Crow Indian Artist. The book may be ordered through Gibbs-Smith Publishers. They have a website at It is also for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.  The book opens with several breathtaking paintings by Mr. Red Star, all of which are depictions of past and present tribal life. The art in the book reflects the strong spirituality present in Mr. Red Star and the Apsaalooke tribe.

Cover of Kevin Red Star Crow Indian Artist

The opening sequence of full page color reproductions of Mr. Red Star's art is simply stunning. His work is lavishly presented in color throughout the rest of the book. His use of earth tone colors is striking. The subjects of the opening sequence are either studies of Apsaalooke (Crow) tribal members in various natural settings or in ceremonial dress. Some of the works of art are full facial studies, others depict tribal members on horseback or in studies of tribal members entire bodies with minimal background. Here are some examples of Mr. Red Star's work, some of which may be found at Mr. Red Star's web site:

Mr. Red Star at work in his studio 

Kevin Red Star - Crazy Dog's War Party

Kevin Red Star - Mr. and Mrs. Choke Cherry

Kevin Red Star - Crow Dance at Midnight

Benefit Print for Zoo Montana and Beartooth Nature Center

Kevin Red Star - Yellow Moon

Kevin Red Star -Crow Full Moon Riders

Kevin Red Star - First Snow

All of these paintings depict Mr. Red Star's studies of Apsaalooke Life. The pictures I have shown here are representations of his tribe's culture and daily life in what seems to be a depiction of the Apsaalooke tribe's lifestyle in the late Nineteenth Century and recent times. The tribe was primarily centered in the mountains of South Central Montana, (e.g. Beartooth Range) and life on the Great Plains at a time when tallgrass prairies were common, and hunting for bison was a regular event.

Mr. Red Star is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts and the San Francisco Art Institute. His support of several charities in the Mountain West has been consistent and gracious. The Institute of American Indian Arts is currently benefitting from the sale of prints of his paintings. People who are interested may go to, his official website. He also exhibits his work at several art galleries in the Mountain West. He is an example of an artist whose vision goes beyond his own perspective, and reflects the best characteristics of Indigenous People.

Text copyright 2017  by Peter Reum

All rights reserved

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Voices of Indigenous People 2 - Music for the Native Americans-Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble by Peter Reum

The question I am occasionally asked about my articles on Indigenous Peoples is "why are you as a Caucasian so interested in Indigenous matters?" The answer is that my adopted sister was Indigenous by birth, and my family lived in the heart of the Northern New Mexico Pueblos in Espanola. To walk an Indigenous Path was very hard on my sister. She was in both the Indigenous world and the Caucasian world. Her feet were firmly planted in both cultures, and the experiences she had with Indigenous people were very mixed.

The album I would like to discuss highlights a man with a similar dilemma, Robbie Robertson, whose history is equally in Judaism and Indigenous peoples. When I call Mr. Robertson's situation a dilemma, I mean to say that his own history as a child and during manhood mainly covered his history as a musician with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, then later with The Band. Lyrically, Mr. Robertson chose to speak to a music audience hungry for the experience of American Life. Mr. Robertson was especially perceptive in his songwriting, reflecting perhaps his time spent with Bob Dylan on the road, and later at Big Pink, the home in rural New York state that hosted the famous experimental songs known as The Basement Tapes.

After the the Last Waltz, Mr. Robertson entered into the world of soundtrack production, often for the distinguished American Director  Martin Scorcese.  These experiences seemed to lead Mr. Robertson into a profession that was an excellent match for him, as he is an aficionado of film, dating from his teenage years on through to his adulthood.  What was not as well known was Mr. Robertson's heritage as an Indigenous Member of the Mohawk Nation from Ontario, Canada. Mr. Robertson spent summers on the Six Nations Reservation southwest of Toronto.

Mr. Robertson was asked to supervise the soundtrack for the Ted Turner historical documentary series The Native Americans. The miniseries was the first major video work that was Native American centered rather than a dominant cultural view of Indigenous America. The documentary's influence was more widely accepted by Indigenous Nations because of the presence of Native Americans working in the series, including Mr. Robertson. Mr. Turner chose not to copyright the film, making it accessible to educational and cultural populations.

In making the Music for The Native Americans album, Robbie Robertson actively sought out other Indigenous musicians to perform their music. In this way, a wider sampling of the music being recorded by Indigenous artists could be shared. There is a tendency to think that Indigenous music consists of  drums and hand carved flutes. The diversity of Indigenous Music reflects the various cultures making up Native America.

The album begins with coyotes howling over the chants of a sacred dance. The tune is called Coyote Dance. Ethereal synthesizer sounds accompany the chants, tastefully highlighted with echo, moving across the stereo perspective. The entire recording communicates the complexity of the Indigenous perspective on Nature. Nature is host to the various  forms of life in their infinite diversity, and many tribes consider the Earth to be a living entity itself. This track includes Delphine Robertson, who is Mr. Robertson's daughter. Montana's own Apsalooke (Crow) chief, Plenty Coups is quoted: "...Our dust and bones, ashes cold and white,  I see no longer the curling smoke rising, I hear no longer the sounds of  the women...."only the wail of the coyote is heard."

Cover Art for Music for The Native Americans

Mahk Jchi is a breathtaking prayer from the Cherokee Nation. The three women singing on this track are Cherokee.  The song is termed a heartbeat drum song. The drum is beaten by Benito, the famous drum player from New Mexico's famous Taos Pueblo. Accompanying him is Mazatl, of Aztec blood. Robbie Robertson plays keyboards here. Three distinguished Indigenous women sing the song. One of the women is Pura Fe, an Indigenous singer and instrumentalist. There is an article I wrote covering her early in my blog's entries.

From times long gone come the traditions of Indigenous tribes working together in cooperation for each other's benefit. In the last decade of the Nineteenth Century, a movement, The Ghost Dance, began.
Ghost Dancers believed that the Caucasians would be driven from the Indigenous tribes' traditional land and soldiers would  die. The various tribal members came together to worship and to drive out the settlers and soldiers who had stolen their lands. Tragically, like Crazy Horse before him, Sitting Bull was assassinated at the site called Wounded Knee by several of  the US
Army soldiers. I hope that you can read to your kids about the liquidation policy of the U.S. Army. Every American should read about history of the extermination efforts made by White Americans. Over 300 Indigenous Lakota men, women, and children died that cold day at Wounded Knee, and it was the largest number of Indigenous people killed at one time at the same site in U. S. A. history. Robbie Robertson narrates over traditional Lakota drums on this piece.

A Sioux Ghost Dance Prayer is quoted
"The whole world is coming
A nation is coming, a nation is coming
The eagle has brought the message to the tribe
The father says so, the father says so
Over the whole earth they are coming
The buffalo are coming. The buffalo are coming
The crow has brought the message to the tribe
The father says so, the father says so"

The fourth selection on the album is entitled "The Vanishing Breed. It is again a meditation on the dire condition of Indigenous people in the United States and also the entire Western Hemisphere. Lovely Indigenous flute is played over a beautiful synthesized string track. The music is authored by Douglas Spotted Eagle and Robbie Robertson.

The fifth track is especially moving, as it is entitled It is a Good Day to Die. The title is a quote from Lakota Warrior Crazy Horse prior to the Little Big Horn battle, in which the entire 7th Cavalry contingent led by Colonel George Armstrong  Custer died. Custer made the error of taking 200 soldiers into battle against an estimated 10,000 Lakota and Northern Cheyenne men, women, children, and elderly people. The battle is estimated to have lasted under 20 minutes based on interviews with Indigenous warriors some 40 years after the battle. The narration, written by Robbie Robertson,  contains one of the most sensitive and insightful set of lyrics Robbie ever wrote.

Black Elk, one of the most famous seers and mystics of Lakota medicine men, was a witness of the Little Big Horn battle. He is quoted as saying "Then another great cry went out in the dust--Crazy Horse is coming  Crazy Horse is coming!" Off toward the West and the North, they were yelling, " Hoka Hey" like a big wind roaring, and making the tremelo: and you could hear eagle bone whistles screaming...."

Golden Feather, the next track, was inspired by the yearning of the Cherokee to return to their North Carolina and Virginia home. Written by Robbie Robertson, the song hints at the religious symbolism that a golden eagle feather has that underlies its significance to traditional tribe members. In many tribes the eagle is sacred because it flies higher than other birds. Eagles are in some tribes considered messengers to the Creator carrying prayers from tribal members. Background vocals are by Laura Satterfield, and Rita and Priscilla Coolidge.
In some tribes, when a tribal member finds a golden feather or a stone shaped like a heart, it is considered a blessing from the Creator.

Akua Tuta, the next selection, is a song in the native language of the Innu tribe in Quebec, Canada. Kashtin, the performer's name, is also from their native language. The lyrics are translated:

"Take care,
Take care of your someplace,
Take care of your grandmother,
Take care of youself"

The two men who make up Kashtin spontaneously began dancing when they were singing.

Words of Fire, Deeds of Blood, a song written by Robbie Robertson,  puts into musical form one of the most eloquent chief's  speeches in Indigenous history. After being pursued by the USA cavalry for over 1500 miles, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe, exhausted by the tribe's flight, surrenders his remaining tribe members and is taken to the Colville, Washington reservation. His eloquent statement to his tribe and the Caucasian soldiers who guarded him is perhaps the most moving of speeches by an Indigenous tribal leader.

The Cherokee Morning Song again features Rita and Priscilla Coolidge. The song is performed here with instruments that are used  in prayer to the Creator. Also singing here is Laura Satterfield. Many tribes have a ritual that is dedicated to the sun. In some tribes, a certain clan or two run or dance to help the sun rise at dawn. The song is usually done in the tribe's own language.

The Di'neh people are the largest tribe in the United States. Their reservation sprawls over 3 states. The art, healing rites, singing and chanting, and other traditional practices are very old. The tribe has ceremonies that are practised privately  away from prying eyes. When praying, the tribe believes they are open and vulnerable to evil spirits. The skinwalker is an evil presence that can take the shape of any animal or human it wants by slipping inside the body of the vulnerable person that is praying. Skinwalkers usually seek host bodies at night. Vision Seekers go to great lengths to avoid being overtaken by evil spirits.

Ancestor Song, the next track, highlights the importance of respect for deceased relatives. In most Indigenous tribal beliefs they have great influence over living tribal members.  Many tribes believe that their deceased relatives are always present, living in the clouds floating overhead.

In the ancient ways, those living dance in complex dress complete with masks that cover the dancers' faces. They believe that the ancestor's spirits enter the masked dancers. They bring the gift of rain in the parched desert climate that would be uninhabitable without rain if the ancestors did not come to enter the body of their living descendants. They believe that if you lift the mask of the dancer, no one is visible, including the dancer who put on the mask.

Hopi tribal members believe that our planet has entered the fourth and final time in its existence.  They believe that the world will again be destroyed as it was three previous times. They believe that the only way to prevent this eventuality is to live in peace with each other and the animals.

Sandy Kewanbaptewa, a traditional believer offers this prayer to the ancient one: "And now grandfather, I ask you to bless the white man. He needs your wisdom, your guidance. You see for so long he has tried to destroy our people, and only feels comfortable when given power. Bless them, and show them the peace we understand. Teach them humility. For I fear they will destroy themselves and their children as they have done so with Mother Earth. I plead, I cry, after all, they are our brothers."

The final selection on this beautiful album is entitled Twisted Hair. The song is written by Jim Wilson and Dave Carson. The song is written as a prayer to the Creator, and asks for the ways of love of Mother Earth return.  The chorus that you hear in the background of this song is the sound of crickets slowed down. The beautiful voice is by Lakota opera singer Bonnie Jo Hunt. At this album's end, an album of prayer and benevolence, this Crowfoot prayer is quoted: " It is the flash of a firefly in the night-It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset..."

This article is copyright 2017 by Peter Reum excluding quoted material from Capitol Records copyright 1992 by Capitol Records
All rights reserved by Capitol Records and Peter Reum

This article is respectfully dedicated to my adopted sister Susan whose struggle with living in two worlds destroyed her.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hey Stevie! Chris Made a Film About You.... by Peter Reum

There are folks who are among the best in their chosen field. People who are open to new experiences find the exhilaration that begins when they empty themselves and soak in the wonder of a master of their craft. I have been blessed in this life to listen to the creativity that flows from an inspired soul several times. People at the pinnacle of their fields shine like lighthouses for anyone who suspends ego and lets those who are inspired share their wisdom.

Two guys who radiate and shine their light are Stephen Kalinich and Chris Allen. Stevie is a person whose poetry flows from him like a mountain spring. Chris Allen is a film maker who sees stories...real people stories that HAVE to be told.

I first encountered both of these guys in a visit to Connecticut in 2002. The occasion was a Beach Boys/Brian Wilson fan convention put on by Susan Lang. David Marks and his lovely wife were also there. We traveled over to David's place the day after the convention, and I spent the day with Susan, Jon Stebbins, David and his wife, and Stevie who was writing with David.

Being around these folks was a very nice diversion from my Montana life. In Montana, I was in therapy sessions daily, working with EBD youth. These boys could really test staff patience, and I had my share of being twisted by the tail most days.

When I spent time with with Stevie, I was touched by his earnest and sincere approach to getting to know new people he met. He had a kindness that radiated outward to me and other people that came from a deep self-acceptance of himself. Stevie radiated strength and compassion in an intensity matched very few people I have seen.

For Stevie,  poetry and art are as essential to him as water is to a trout. Stevie has little if any of the self-doubt that people who write as a form self - expression have. His reason for what might be seen by some folks as networking avails him new opportunities unlike most poets. For diverse artists,  the door opens wider if poetry is the base of  understanding of our approach to be here with you. Stephen is a wordsmith. This is a rare and precious gift.

Stephen is a person who is capable of finding the most essential qualities in every person he meets.  He has the gift of moving past small talk into learning what inspires people. He is not a judgemental person. If he senses that a person he meets is unwilling to talk about certain subjects,  he will share examples from his own life to draw the person out.

Stephen is a loyal friend. This part of him surfaces in his poetry. If he decides a person is benevolent, he will share examples of kindness he has received. His insights about people are trustworthy. His life experiences tell his story.

Chris Allen has the ability to meet people where they are comfortable and to use film to illustrate their life's mission.  He has had the chance to tell his viewers about some of the most unique personalities in the arts community.

When I worked with Chris on an article I wrote entitled Light the Lamp, based on my reaction to Brian Wilson's Smile concerts, his input turned that article into a longer reflection on Brian Wilson as a musician and composer. Chris helped change a good article into one that people found insightful.

The artistic urge has to be scratched. If you have the good fortune to meet people like Chris and Stephen, take time to get to know them. You will be a better person for the efforts you make.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Playback: The Brian Wilson Anthology by Peter Reum

Brian Wilson's latter day solo career began in the years he was treated for mental illness by Eugene Landy, a psychologist who slimmed a half-dead Brian from 340 pounds to a vital and fit 180 pounds. Brian began working with the late Gary Usher in the mid Eighties, but their collaboration was crippled by the constant meddling of Landy and Brian's keepers, who Brian called "the Surf Nazis." Usher and Brian's work resulted in roughly a dozen songs, many of which have remained unreleased.  One 45 emerged from the sessions, Let's Go to Heaven in My Car. It was only the second single ever released by Brian up to that time, the other being Caroline No from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album.

One of Brian's rare public performing appearances in the Eighties led to an offer of a record contract from Seymour Stein of Sire Records. Brian's conflicted feelings about recording with Landy and the unending presence of a contingent  of Landy's "handlers" which Brian called "The Surf Nazis" became evident early on in some of the songs that Brian was trying to write with Andy Paley. Paley was recruited by Seymour Stein, and his role was fairly fluid during the sessions he did with Brian. Paley has mentioned in interviews that he wrote over 100 songs with Brian. Four songs from the Wilson/Paley songbook are present on this album's playlist.

Paley is a fine songwriter whose work style was compatible with Brian's. Their collaboration on Brian's first album was a major reason the album turned out so well. Landy's frequent interfering created a high degree of anxiety during the Brian Wilson album sessions. Paley helped calm a shaken Brian when Landy interfered. Brian had a number of songs which were top notch, despite the interference of Landy's numerous phone calls and arguments with anything that messed with his ideas for Brian, including being credited as a dubious "co-writer" on numerous songs.

The Brian Wilson Anthology draws four tunes from the eighteen on the album entitled Brian Wilson.  That first solo album is represented on the Brian Wilson Anthology strongly. The album sessions seemed to drag on, mostly due to ultimatums from either Landy or his bushy minions, the Surf Nazis. Complicating the album's public image was the 1988 single that the Beach Boys released. Kokomo was a catchy tune, and it rose to the top spot on the Billboard singles chart. Over several months, Brian's work on the album grew. Russ Titleman co-produced most of the album with Brian, Rio Grande was produced  by Brian Wilson and Lenny Waronker. Landy had production credit as well, but the credit was removed as were songwriting credits on several other tunes on Brian Wilson.

Love and Mercy leads off the album program, and deserves that honor easily. The tune has been recorded by other artists who also valued the song and it's message. The song is a standard at Brian Wilson concerts, and closes the show as the last song in the encore. The tune's lamentation on the violence in the world is a universal message. Recently, a young woman from Afghanistan recorded it, and was set to come to the USA. Her visa was denied by the Trump Administration.  She was moved by the song's lyric about there being too much violence in the world. Brian had planned to meet her, but it couldn't occur due to a ban on visits from several Islamic countries, including Afghanistan.

The second song culled from Brian Wilson is Surfs Up. The versions from the 1966 and 1967 recordings are remarkable, almost breathtaking. They lack the world weariness of the tune on Brian Wilson Presents Smile. Lionized by Leonard Bernstein, David Oppenheim, and Paul Williams, this version on the Anthology album offers an older and perhaps wiser vocal from Brian that beautifully reflects the worldwise emotions of an older Brian Wilson which better matches the message in Van Dyke Parks' lyrics. To say it bluntly, Brian's vocal from 2004 sounds more appropriate to the song's lyrics than the version from the 1971 Surfs Up album with Carl and Brian. For some Brian Wilson fans, this idea may sound heretical.

Heroes and Villains was one of the major compositions by Brian and the mercurial Van Dyke Parks. The song was to appear on the shelved Smile album in 1966. That the song is brilliant has never been questioned. Heroes and Villains was recorded in short musical pieces that Brian wanted to sequence in a matter similar to how Good Vibrations was put together. Brian's use of short snippets of sound, which were then spliced together was termed "modular production." The modules of Heroes and Villains were reworked for the Brian Wilson Presents Smile album. Thanks to Darian Sahanaja, Brian was able to listen to all of the aborted 1966-7 Heroes and Villains modules, and together Brian and Darian worked to assemble the beautiful version from 2004.

Melt Away is a solo composition, and Brian's lyrics on it perfectly reflect the instrumental track, which has an almost church hymn feeling to it. As Brian has matured and grown older, his ability to commit his thoughts and feelings to his songs has mushroomed. It is a great love song. For my money, it is one of the top 3 or 4 tunes on Brian Wilson.

If you are a follower of Electric Light Orchestra, you will no doubt recognize the sound of Jeff Lynne in Let It Shine. Brian had worked with Roy Wood, a bandmate of Lynne's on It's Ok during The 15 Big Ones sessions. Lynne is a fine producer in his own right, and co-produced Let It Shine with Brian on the Brian Wilson album sessions. For myself, this tune is one of the most upbeat and almost sounds like the beginning of an old fashioned Christian Revival evening. Of course, it is not sacred in its theme.

Some Sweet Day is a previously unreleased tune from Brian's work with Andy Paley. It is a tune that could have fit on some of the Beach Boys mid Sixties albums. It offers a peek into Brian and Andy's sensibilities. The tune's track is a song that is almost a dead ringer for Brian's tune from the Carl and the Passions tune He Came Down. It would be nice to hear a double or triple cd set of the best Wilson/Paley songs.

So much has been written covering Brian's work with Andy Paley on Rio Grande. Having grown up less than half a mile from the Rio Grande in New Mexico, as a kid, it was for me the river that fired my imagination. Lenny Waronker of Warner/Reprise took time out from his busy schedule as WEA president to coax Brian into writing a long form composition "like Cool Cool Water. "  Brian was reluctant initially when asked to record a long form composition.  The song's evolution from a sound sketch into an 8+ minute mini rock opera is covered on Rhino/Warner's extended reissue of Brian's first solo album. The song's Western theme pulls together a number of Brian's song fragments and was revised several times before the released version was completed.  One obvious song fragment is the earworm melody called Night Blooming Jasmine. The song's winding course mirrors the Rio Grande River itself. The input from Andy Paley was invaluable in the stitching together of the various song parts into a coherent song. It is a masterpiece, and boosted Brian's confidence in his own music and lyrics.

The Imagination album offers two songs on this anthology. The collaboration of Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas began with this album. As an overall album, Imagination was more polished and adult oriented than some of Brian's other work. The two songs on this anthology's program are Cry and Lay Down Burden. There are at least 3 other tunes that could fit here, Your Imagination, She Says That She Needs Me, and a sassy collaboration with Jimmy Buffett, South American. Cry offers a somber musical mood that borders on penitent. The tune is an apology to his wife, after he picked a fight with her when he was in a bad mood. The track for the tune literally exudes his sorrow after the fight. Lay Down Burden is a message to his brother Carl when Brian learned that Carl's cancer was terminal.

The two songs that follow Lay Down Burden are songs that appear on the Brian Wilson Live at the Roxy album that is excellent but long ago deleted until this anthology. The First Time is a song that Brian wrote for a Flintstones movie. This Isn't Love was initially written with Brian's Pet Sounds lyricist, Tony Asher for the Wilson Sister's 1997 album without Chynna Phillips. It also appeared as an instrumental on  a Windham Hill label album. The tune could have been a part of a new Wilson/Asher album, but the collaboration ended shortly after This Isn't Love.

As the years went by, Brian's next studio album was titled Gettin' In Over My Head. The album is represented on this anthology by two songs, Gettin' In Over My Head (the title track), and Soul Searchin', the product of an aborted Beach Boys album that was quickly shelved in favor of a Beach Boys and Country Music album with Country Music artists singing Beach Boys songs backed by the group. Soul Searchin' was recorded with a Carl Wilson lead vocal that was blended with Brian's 2004 vocal. The song oozed an earthy feeling track with Brian's vocal parts added. A version was later cut by Solomon Burke. The title track, Gettin' In  Over My Head, is an excellently produced melody, with lyrics that convey the questions men and women ask themselves when a new relationship proceeds more rapidly than the new lovers anticipated.  Both tracks are quite strong in an album that is uneven.

The Like I Love in You is one of two unfinished melodies composed by George Gershwin that the Gershwin family asked Brian to finish in 2010. The exceptiomal overall quality of the album, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin, makes it my favorite Brian Wilson solo album other than Brian Wilson Presents Smile. The two Gershwin fragments of songs that Brian and his band completed are highlights of a project that Brian and his band were very enthused about. The album is a joy to listen to, and honored Brian's favorite composer and lyricist, George and Ira Gershwin, in a manner that was respectful to the Gershwin musical legacy. Any listener who listens to this album will find the range of human emotions that makes Porgy and Bess an American classic.

After playing Pet Sound live in 2002 and Smile in 2004, the Royal South Festival Hall commissioned Brian to compose the another long form concert to be performed at the hall where the earlier shows were played. The result was an extended performance which centered on a collection of songs themed around the life of a youth centered environment--Southern California. The song cycle was humorous,  even silly until it was revised. One song stands out the best, a biographic tune entitled Midnight's Another Day. Scott Bennett wrote the lyrics with Brian, and they as autobiographical as Brian has ever been since Pet Sounds. The entire theme is a musical portrait of the people, places, and activities that make Southern California special.

The second album that Brian recorded for Disney collected a set of songs taken from Disney motion pictures. Colors of the Wind originally appeared in Pocahantas, a movie about  an actual indigenous person from the 17th Century. The song works beautifully in the story told in this animated movie. It offers a theme of learning to live with our natural world instead of depleting limited energy that sets back Earth's ability to heal itself. For millennia, indigenous people worldwide have lived on Earth working with nature instead of trying to control it.

The first of two archival tunes is a Brian Wilson and Andy Paley composition most likely from the Gettin' In Over My Head sessions. Some Sweet Day is a bouncy and cheerful composition that seems to fit better in this set than it would have fit on the Gettin' In  Over My Head album. The song is bouncy and cute in a first relationship type of thinking. It fits the theme of many of the Wilson/Paley songs that center on first love types of relationships, with their corresponding happy naivety and innocence. The music for Some Sweet Day is cheerful and optimisticaslly forward looking. It fits this album well.

Run James Run is somewhat of an enigma as to when it was written. Clearly, it most likely dates from sometime recent. Some of the tunes that Brian and Joe Thomas wrote date from the year Brian lived in Illinois, around 1997. The tune is a light and bouncy song that fits well as an optimistic album closing tune here on Playback: The Brian Wilson  Anthology.

The album's strengths:

*The album flows very  nicely from beginning to conclusion
*Nearly all of the solo albums Brian has recorded since his 1988 solo album are represented
*This anthology on first blush can be considered an album that focuses on Brian's best solo work
*The musicians on this album are generally from Brian's touring band, and there is a feeling of continuity as a result.

The album's weaknesses:

*Some songs that this writer would have considered a "must" on this album are left out. Please refer to the list below
*The booklet that comes with the album is very well written. It would have been nice to have some observations from Brian for each track
*There are numerous one off types of tracks that have come out intermittently throughout Brian's solo career. Some of them are excellent and need the further exposure that they deserve
*A bonus DVD would have been helpful to show some of Brian's work

Appendix I

Some possible tracks that could be valuable in an expanded version of this anthology

Brian Wilson (1988)
* There's So Many
* Meet Me in My Dreams Tonight

I Just Wasn't Made for These Times (1995)
* Do It Again with Carnie and Wendy
* Still I Dream of It (demo)

Orange Crate Art (with Van Dyke Parks 1995)
*Orange Crate Art
*Palm Tree and Moon
*San Francisco

Imagination (1998)
*She Says That She Needs Me
*South American
*Your Imagination (vocals only)

Brian Wilson Live at the Roxy (2000)
*Caroline No
*Friends (from Japanese issue)

Brian Wilson Pet Sounds Live (2001)
*I Just Wasn't Made For These Times
*Pet Sounds - title track

Gettin' In Over My Head
*Desert Drive
*Don't Let Her Know She's An Angel
*The Waltz

Brian Wilson Presents Smile (200I4)
*Entire Second Movement
*On a Holiday
*Mrs O'Leary's Cow
*In Blue Hawaii

What I Really Want For Christmas  (2005)
*Joy to the World
*What I Really Want For Christmas

Lucky Old Son (2007)
*Oxygen to the Brain
*Going Home

Brian Wilson Presents Gershwin (2010)
*Nothing But Love
*I Loves You Porgy
*I Got Rhythm

In the Key of Disney  (2011)
*Dwarf Medley

No Pier Pressure (2015)
*Half Moon Bay
*Our Special Love

Brian Wilson and Friends (2016)
*Heroes and Villains

One Off Songs for bonus material:

Live Let Live
He Couldn't Get His Body to Move
Being With the One You Love
Rodney on the Roc
Too Much Sugar
Let's Go to Heaven in My Car
This Song Wants to Sleep With You Tonight
Good Vibrations (live)
Our Prayer (live)
Our Prayer (Freeform Reform Mix)
Sweets for the Sweet
This Could Be the Night
God Only Knows (BBC version)
Surfin' USA live @ Bridge School Benefit
Goodnight Irene
What Love Can Do
In My Moondreams with Andy Paley
Listen to Me
My Sweet Lord
California Feeling
California Sun
Country Feelin'
The Spirit of Rock and Roll
Speed Turtle
You Are So Beautiful with Carnie Wilson
Til I Die with Carnie and Wendy Wilson
Monday Without You with Carnie/Wendy
Everything I Need with Carnie/Wendy
Miracle with Carnie and Wendy
Friends live

Demos exist for a number of Brian Wilson songs with the Beach Boys and as a solo artist. This is a fertile source for other solo efforts by Brian.

For a single cd anthology, Playback is a fine introduction to Brian Wilson's solo recordings. I can honestly recommend it with few if any reservations.

Essay copyright 2017 by Peter Reum - all rights reserved