In recent years I have, since collecting most of the Disney music I love, developed a peripheral love of Disney music *covers*. There’s a lot of it out there, but I have an allergic reaction to AutoTune, so most of the pop covers that Disney themselves puts out do not appeal to me.
Now as I said, there is no shortage of artists covering Disney music, and by no means have I heard all of it – some Dave Brubeck, the Kenny Ball CD I reviewed earlier, and a few bits and pieces here and there. That’s about it. I don’t even know where to start, so I recently asked for recommendations based on my musical tastes – other than the aforementioned aversion to AutoTune I like most anything so long as it’s creative and sincere.
So one friend recommended Brian Wilson’s “In the Key of Disney”. I sampled a few songs on YouTube and knew we had a hit, and a couple of weeks ago I bought the CD.
Now you know Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. I know, that goes without saying, but just in case you were like “Oh, that name is familiar, who IS it?” or you’re twelve or under, I thought I’d mention that. Wilson is an amazing songwriter. His understand of harmonies is intuitive. His lyrics are sometimes, uh, a bit shallow… but his music? Genius!
The song choices are a mixup of contemporary – some from Pixar movies, even – and the usual classics. So we’ve got a whole range like “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” to “Stay Awake” from Mary Poppins and plenty in between. Okay, I know 1995 is not THAT recent but it’s still interesting to me that he chose Pixar themes to include here. 🙂 And there is a song from “Toy Story 3” on the CD so there.
The really nice thing is that Brian Wilson is a songwriter unafraid to reinvent the sound of a song, so he doesn’t only cover them, he really remakes them. The songs are noticeably in his style, and in some cases it’s not only a great match, it is an improvement. For instance, “Colors of the Wind” – I’m not saying the original song is bad, but I *love* his version. It’s laid back, the beat actually makes the lyrics stand out more, and it keeps the earthy messages of the original. It’s a simplified version, because the original has a technically complicated arrangement. But I like it for its simplicity.
A personal favourite of mine is “Baby Mine”, which is just as sweet as the version in “Dumbo”. This song has been my daughter’s lullaby since she was an infant and she still asks for it each night (she’s seven now). She loves this version as much as I do. The movie version has an almost melancholy feel, appropriate for the scene it is in; this version is instead comforting and warm. The harmonies added into this version are lovely. (I’m also pleased that he stuck “Stay Awake” on here too, because that one is my 4-year-old son’s lullaby, haha)
One more really nifty track is the mix of “Yo-Ho (A Pirates’ Life For Me)”, “Heigh-Ho”, and “Whistle While You Work”. And even though everyone, everywhere, EVER does their own version of “When You Wish Upon A Star”, I’d be disappointed if Brian Wilson didn’t include his own take on it. And it’s as good as expected. 🙂
I will admit to one thing: Brian Wilson is not, at this stage in his life, a strong singer. I like the sound of his voice, for several reasons – it’s appealingly real, for one thing (did I mention I hate AutoTune?), and for another there’s just a lot of sincerity to it. But if you prefer trained singers and pretty voices, his voice may not appeal to you. For quite some time I mistakenly thought that Brian Wilson did not actually sing with the Beach Boys, he just did all the behind the scenes work on the songs, but that’s been pointed out to me that it’s a mistake (and I’m just updating this blog post now, a month later, to correct my misconception). He was indeed a lead vocalist of the group, but the vocals on this album are not up to par with the Beach Boys’ hey-day. Regardless, I actually consider his vocals a strength of the album, but your mileage may vary. 😉
You can buy the album on Amazon.com here; the Amazon Exclusive includes a digital download and an extra track on the physical CD. You can sample some of the songs on YouTube, too, the way I did. Enjoy!