Like just about everyone in the early ’90s, I had the CD Wilson Phillips, the all-girl trio made up of the daughters of founders of the Mamas and the Papas and the Beach Boys. And like just about everyone else, I forgot about them until Bridesmaids. OK, not forgot — but like Hootie and the Blowfish, they were one of those groups that had a great first album, an unforgettable single (“Hold On,” which I still have to listen to in its entirety when it plays on the radio) and then their moment was gone.
In some ways, it was a surprise, because their close harmonies showed skill (though the band broke up in 1993 anyway). But not it seems less of a surprise, as Live from Infinity Hall (Masterworks) — the DVD of their new album, Dedicated, a tribute of covers originally recorded by their famous parents — reveals a depressing limitation of talent. When Wendy and Carnie Wilson and Chynna Phillips sing in unison, the support of each provides context, if not power; when they go into solos, as they do on the Pet Sounds classic “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” I had to stop the DVD for fear of being driven to madness.
In honesty, I never turned it back on. While calling its concert of Dedicated a tribute to their parents, the first song, “Release Me,” is one of WP’s own hits and the third, “Daniel,” was one of the Taupin-John songs they previously recorded. And more are to come.
It’s just as well. The band often sounds out of tune as the girls, and the genetic accident that made them the offspring of geniuses does not give them carte blanche to butcher the songs of my youth. In fact, doing oeuvre from the ’60s two greatest vocally harmonic pop bands merely underscores their own weaknesses: The three women’s voices simply don’t have the depth that Cass Elliott and Co., or Brian Wilson, Mike Love et al., were able to impart. It’s best to stick with their 22 year old eponymous CD and remember them for what they were, and not what they are trying to be.
By comparison, the musicality in A MusiCares Tribute to Barbra Streisand (Shout) is almost unquestionable. Despite the packaging, which features Babs’ name and photo in huge letters, this isn’t a concert video of hers — not even her recent CD of old unreleased tracks. Nope, the diva sings only two songs at the end; the rest are covers performed live at a gala honoring La Streisand by the likes of Diana Krall, Seal, LeAnn Rimes, Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock and Barry Manilow.
The performances are occasionally remarkable. Seal ventures into rare Barbra territory, daring to sing from her disco era — a version of “Guilty” that feels contemporary and is perhaps even better than hers. Wannabe Lea Michele of Glee does it big on “My Man,” and Jeff Beck’s bluesy guitar riffs anchor a gospelized version of “Come Rain or Come Shine” sung soulfully by LeAnn Rimes and BeBe Winans.
Not all are winners. Nikki Yanofsky’s jazzy mashup of “One a Clear Day/Lazy Afternoon” is saved only by Hancock’s piano work, and Bill Maher’s standup act, while hilarious, seems out of place and slightly dated post-election.
Indeed, the biggest let-down about of the DVD is its production values. It all sounds good, but from the misleading packaging to the cold opening to the fact it’s from a concert that took place nearly two years ago (jokes about the “new” Speaker of the House fall flat post-Romney).
But that’s more or less an easy fix: Don’t look, listen … and fast forward through any singers you don’t already like. There’s enough good there to give it a listen.
Wilson Phillips: Live from Infinity Hall — no stars
A MusiCares Tribute to Barbra Streisand — two and a half stars