I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #51:
Garage Orchestra, from 1994, starts off with a siren on the first song, “Father of the Seventh Son,” in a clarion call that evokes the Beach Boys’ abandoned 1967 SMiLE project when a mentally fragile Brian Wilson, having handed out toy fire hats in the studio, reportedly got so spooked by passing fire trucks racing to a fire in the hills that he discontinued the sessions and destroyed many of the tapes.
“Father” — a song with impressionistic Van Dyke Park-like lyrics mixed with skewed fun-fun-fun allusions to “the surf at Malibu” and “a house at Newport Beach” — sets a tone for much of Garage Orchestra’s ramshackle Pet Sounds-and-kettle drums core, though the musicians, including members of the San Diego Symphony, are offset and complemented with Cindy Lee Berryhill’s loosey-goosey vocals and upfront electric guitar.
A harmony-tinged tune of introspection like “I Wonder Why,” lyrically reminiscent of something from the second side of Beach Boys Today!, the 1965 Pet Sounds precursor, demands the orchestra be brought out of the shadows of the garage and the cellos and tympani cranked up to eleven in counterpoint to a wistful singer who poignantly ponders:
- When I was a kid sitting in the backyard
Pulling out the summer chart
And finding my star
I’d ask it why
He’d live so far away.
I love those great big things
That make you wonder
And feel so funny inside…
So many things to wonder, too. In another song, San Diegan Cindy Lee, who produced along with Michael Harris, names names and gives her heart away: “Though I know this is just a stupid song ... I met you Brian and we fell in love last night!” She can’t help but marvel about an idealized dream she had about the Beach Boys’ leader — “He kissed me on the black lounge chair!” — in the whimsical wall-of-Wilson “Song for Brian,” punctuated with percussive Spectorian flourishes, vocals by turns wailing and lilting.