Friday, June 1, 2012

AM/FM: A beautiful tour of 60s & 70s pop/rock from Rita Wilson

The used CD bins of record stores are filled with copies of albums by celebrities who attempted a music career: I’m looking at you, Don “Heartbeat” Johnson and Bruce “Bruno” Willis. But once in a while, one of these releases is a worthwhile listen. AM/FM (2012), the new album by Rita Wilson (aka Mrs. Tom Hanks), is a pleasant surprise from start to finish. She’s better known as an actress & producer, but Wilson did a stint in Chicago on Broadway in 2006 (as Roxie Hart), and has always had a deep love of music. The record is a well-chosen collection of covers ranging from 60s pop tunes like The Association’s “Cherish” to 70s singer-songwriter fare like Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” which features Jackson Browne on vocals.

Browne isn’t the only guest on the disc, which also includes turns by rocker Chris Cornell (who duets with Wilson on The Everly Brothers “All I Have To Do Is Dream”) as well as support from Sheryl Crow, Faith Hill and Vince Gill. Wilson also scored a coup by having legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb play piano on his composition “Witchita Lineman,” previously a hit for Glen Campbell. And Patti Scialfa (Mrs. Bruce Springsteen) turns up to co-produce and sing on a cover of The Supremes hit “Come See About Me.” Wilson also does a version of an unreleased Scialfa song entitled “Every Perfect Picture," which is only available as a bonus track on the iTunes version of the album.

Ms. Wilson has a sweet, lovely voice, with a hint of underlying sensuality. Her style recalls artists like Linda Ronstadt, Karla Bonoff & Alison Krauss, which is quite appropriate given the material. The spare arrangements are a good complement to her versions of these classic songs. And she takes a few chances, including covering the Eric Kaz and Libby Titus number “Love Has No Pride,” which is a signature tune for both Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt, and manages to give it her own spin. Wilson also successfully tackles such iconic hits as Carole King's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" and Joni Mitchell's "River." AM/FM is a well-produced tour of these fondly remembered songs, and baby boomers (and fans of the genres featured here) will find much to enjoy on the album. It’s a gentle, sonically pleasing record that recalls a simpler, yet still enduring, musical era. Ms. Wilson's fine effort won't be visiting the cutout bins any time soon.

Here are links to a recent live performance of "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues" by Rita at Joe's Pub in New York City, and an interview with her about the album

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