Making God Smile
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jul
Making God Smile is an album that works on multiple levels. First and foremost, it is a loving gift and tribute to the musical genius of Brian Wilson, who turned 60 years old this past June. Part of this album's title is a nod to Brian's unreleased
Additionally, as noted artist and writer John Fischer rightly points out, this is a great way to expose the public to a handful of very talented Christian artists and hopefully eliminate the stigma of "inferior music" through commonly appealing songs. The talent is certainly present on this recording, and I'm glad the people behind
Sixpence None the Richer similarly blends their modern folk/pop style with the original music on their graceful cover of "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times." Several other artists successfully adapt their own signature sound to the songs, altering the feel without drastically transforming the originals. For example, folk artist Jan Krist lends an air of winsome nostalgia to her cover of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" that's a strong contrast to the happy sound of the original, and it works beautifully. Derrick Harris transforms "Don't Worry Baby" into catchy and smooth acoustic pop reminiscent of Shane Barnard, Justin McRoberts, or Kepano Green. Meanwhile, multi-instrumentalist Phil Madeira turns "Heroes and Villains" into a poignant instrumental song. He acknowledges that part of the reason is that his low, gravely voice wasn't made for singing The Beach Boys, but he carries off the song perfectly with steel guitars, dobro, and piano. The overall arrangement is melancholic and bittersweet. Really the only track on the album that didn't work for my ears is "Help Me Rhonda," performed by Kevin Max (dc Talk) and Jimmy A (Vector, Ragamuffin Band). It's the electronic Euro-pop you'd expect from Kevin, who produced the song, but it just doesn't seem to work with the song. Once you get used to the initial shock of the extremely different sound and the transformation of the melody, nothing else interesting happens in the song. And at five minutes in length, it long overstays its welcome.
Several other tracks will appeal to Brian Wilson purists, simply because they're performed by fellow purists. Guitarist Brooks Williams performs a faithful remake of "Pet Sounds," appropriately blending rock with the bossa nova and '60s lounge pop. Anyone who's listened to Randy Stonehill and Terry Scott Taylor over the years know they're both diehard fans of Brian, and their vocals are so perfect for this album, you'd swear they were once Beach Boys themselves. Randy and Terry tackle "Love and Mercy" with a tender arrangement, and Terry adds just a little extra camp to the already silly "Vegetables." Most impressive of all are the three tracks by Christian journeymen. Phil Keaggy perfectly replicates "Good Vibrations," playing and singing everything himself except for the drums and the Mike Love vocals (handled by friend Gene Miller) – an amazing feat considering the sonic masterpiece of the original. Aaron Sprinkle of Poor Old Lu also performs all the notes in his arrangement, a perfectly natural blending of "I Know There's an Answer" and "Hang on to Your Ego." Adding electric guitars and a programmed drum groove to the mix, it sounds a bit like Audio Adrenaline performing the songs, and yet it also captures the classic Beach Boys sound. The same is true of Rick Altizer and his decidedly modernized version of "Surf's Up." He, too, plays every instrument himself, and it's clear Rick has a deep affection for the music in the way he preserves the original song while giving it a modern art-rock feel.
Serious fans of the music may want to consider ordering the album through Silent Planet's website, where you can obtain the special limited-edition 2-disc version of the album, featuring eight additional covers and remixes. As it stands,