I won't claim to be a serious music critic or pretend I could set aside my emotional attachment to this album to write a unbiased review. But I thought my personal reflections on it would benefit newer fans and those who may have overlooked it. Personally, I've been a fan of all three, in their bands and individually, for most of my life and their shows are among my best memories from childhood and my adult life as well, so that's my bias.
I'm sure everyone knows at least a little about Robert's collaborators, Carl Wilson and Gerry Beckley. Carl Wilson was the youngest Wilson brother, and he passed away in 1998. His voice and songwriting graced countless Beach Boys albums over the decades, singing songs that ranged from the most gentle ballads to the most soulful rockers. His stage presence added grace and charm, a gentleman always, and he acted as a band leader for the touring band. Gerry Beckley has always been known as the balladeer for America, writing a lot of radio-friendly hit songs, great charisma on stage, and possessing a very endearing vocal style. We see from his work in America and solo that he also capable of writing and singing some very introspective tunes. A great quote from Gerry, to paraphrase: 'these aren't oldies, they're classic rock. There's a difference.' Sure is!
When Carl passed away in 1998, there was no swan song from the Beach Boys. They hadn't released an album in a while. When BLW was released in 2000, I felt like this album took on the role of Carl's swan song. That it wasn't a Beach Boys album and a collaboration with Robert and Gerry made it all the more special. I loved hearing familiar voices combined in a fresh way, and that's never worn off after playing it for the past 15 years.
The songwriting here, by all three and others, is particularly strong and sometime intensely personal. I would also recommend listening to the album on a nice stereo, or at least with good headphones so you get the full effect of the three voices and how they compliment each other. It's nicely engineered and mixed as well. Two songs, Robert's Feel the Spirit and Carl's Like A Brother, will break your heart and heal it at the same time. I Wish For You shows off Carl's voice with sparse instrumentation and an uplifting message. Run Don't Walk is more upbeat, a song that wouldn't be out of place on a Beach Boys record such as Keepin' the Summer Alive (a very fine album).
Watching the Time is something of a coming of age song. On this album, Gerry takes the first verse, and then Robert takes the lead vocal on the second verse. Gerry and Carl sound angelic on the bridge. Gerry wrote it, but they could be singing about any of their bands with the line "we would reach for the stars 'cus there was room at the top." Robert's song Life In Motion also sounds like it could be his coming of age story.
Sheltering Sky kicks off with some spacey sound effects, but turns out to be one of the album's most beautiful moments, about uncertain love. It was also written by Gerry and a shared lead vocal. Robert's voice is very gentle here as well, almost mirroring Gerry's style but in baritone. Without Her is a cover song, written by Harry Nilsson (find the original on you tube, it's good) and keeps the bossa nova beat, really outside spectrum of what most fans are used to hearing.
The title track, Like A Brother, is a story any Beach Boys fan knows, but the selflessness of Carl's thoughts on his brother Brian are remarkably sweet. And to be honest, when I listen to it, my thoughts and memories are of Carl most of all.
I think the final word here should come from Robert's song for Terry Kath. I know we all wish he didn't have to write it, but that he did and sang it with such passion gives infinite comfort.
"Oh my gentle friend, the years passed so fast... now we open up the heart, make it beat again... Dawn breaks over the water. Can you feel the spirit? New day coming to life." - Feel the Spirit