Review by David M. Beard
Anyone can tell you that taking a road trip from Los Angeles to Big Sur on the California coastline is an experience full of majesty and beauty. The music of The Beach Boys — in its own unique way — represents that long stretch of road as much as it encompasses the sandy shores of Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach and beyond. Al Jardine's musical beginnings were in the homespun folk roots of The Kingston Trio. Like his high school band mate Brian Wilson, Al also enjoyed the doo-wop and harmony-based groups of the 1950s. The Beach Boys created a marriage of sound using The Four Freshmen, Chuck Berry, Kingston Trio, The Del Vikings… the list goes on.
After a brief stint away in 1962 (in pursuit of an education in Michigan), Jardine returned to The Beach Boys’ fold. Wilson drafted hit after hit with his boys, and Al, when his number was called, sang on the smash hit, "Help Me Rhonda!" The Beach Boys’ critically-acclaimed Holland album from 1973 featured the exotic "California Saga" suite ("Big Sur/The Beaks of Eagles/California"), which provided the listener with a walk through the eyes of a "Beach Boy environmentalist," someone who had and still has a very deep appreciation of wildlife and nature. Al's new album, A Postcard From California, is a 12-song collection that encompasses the amalgam of everything mentioned here.
Part of what creates the full Americana realization of this collection is a great array of guest stars that Jardine brought — in most cases — into the studio. The list includes David Marks (co-founding Beach Boy), Glen Campbell, David Crosby, Neil Young, Steve Miller, Gerry Beckley & Dewey Bunnell (America), actor Alec Baldwin and Flea (The Red Hot Chili Peppers). As eclectically impressive as this group is, the real highlight for Beach Boys fans is the long lost recording "Don't Fight the Sea," which Al initially recorded in the late 1970s with Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston. As Jardine remembers it, "I could never get all the guys together. That’s why it never became a Beach Boys song. For some reason, after the initial recording with Bruce, Carl and myself it languished unfinished. I could never get Brian to perform on it until Dr. Landy gave his blessing in 1988. It languished it for another 10 years. In 1998 I added Carl on the bridge. Then ProTools came along. Thank God for ProTools. I approached Mike Love about recording a vocal (last year), and wanted to know if he wanted to put his heart and soul into it. He was totally agreeable to it. Thanks to Mike and Brian we’ve got all the fellows on a recording again, which is nice."
Whether it's the countrified title track about Al's family's migration and nomadic lifestyle, the sincere examination of the California coastline on "Looking Down the Coast," the fun and poignant lyrics of "Drivin'" ("BP, you're killin' me, man"), the Beach Boys’ Party album vibe on "Help Me Rhonda" with Steve Miller and Flea as guests (ala Dean Torrence on "Barbara Ann"), or the poetic shift of "Tidepool Interlude" as recited by Alec Baldwin, this is a song cycle that illustrates the culmination of Jardine's personal and musical life.
Yet, as wonderful as this collection feels, the standout recording for me is the pop-friendly "San Simeon," as sung by Al and Gerry Beckley with a quaint nod to "Don't Worry Baby." Matt and Adam Jardine carry the background vocals on this song — as well as throughout the album — with a fluent grace; it's Beach Boys beautiful. Makes sense considering these boys come from the gene pool.
While hard-core Beach Boys fans will be familiar with most of the material on this collection, Al brings new life and vigor to the well-known chestnuts, and completely recaptures his environmental sensibilities while providing the listener with an organic listening experience. As Jardine views it, "This album is more my Moody Blues concept album. It’s like a few years in the life of Al Jardine.”
The album is available now via iTunes download and http;//Amazon.com/ CD-R with packaging. Visit Aljardine.com for song samples and promotional videos.