Collin Westerlund is a 26-year-old recording artist from Baltimore, Maryland who’s currently based in Northwest Arkansas. Growing up in a musical family, he played solo and in bands from age 17 to 21, when he got married. In that time he’d written “a lot of songs about my experiences, mostly focusing on love.” His album Beautiful World was recorded after moving to Boise, Idaho in the two weeks after his first child was born. Quite different from my own baby experience!
Westerlund states that “I’ve always been bored with a lot of modern music, and wanted to create something that I would like to see! I recorded the entire album with only a $30 microphone and my instruments. The only added effects are reverb; everything else I created with my bare hands.” Westerlund’s influences include The Four Seasons, Burt Bacharach, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Gamble & Huff, Phil Spector, Jan & Dean, Sonny & Cher, Motown, ELO, The Young Rascals, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Percy Faith and Ray Conniff. These names will not surprise anyone who hears this album. In fact, these songs remind me both of Brian Wilson (had he never moved beyond his bedroom tape recorder) as well as one of those K-Tel Oldies vinyl collections.
All writing, arranging, performing and production is by Collin Westerlund, with additional mixing by Hunter Neville and mastering at Simpul Studios in Boise, Idaho.
When I say this album plays like a K-Tel collection, I most assuredly am not kidding. These are (mostly) new songs by a new artist but every song recalls some oldie buried in your consciousness, though the fact that a young man can conjure up songs that I imprinted on as a baby is quite amazing. That said, some of the songs feel slightly off kilter, like those factory soundalike singles Lou Reed or Kim Fowley made in their youth. Regardless, Westerlund’s concept is wildly audacious. I have already blabbed too much, so I’ll touch on my favorites.
“Do You Like Rock and Roll” literally comes galloping in on a sea of reverb. The main instruments are guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, though one of these is a hair out of tune with the others. However, Westerlund’s vocals are a marvel: somehow this one-man band is able to approximate the early Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, The Four Seasons and the rest of those vocal-heavy bands. The song itself is a standard rock boogie, its form instantly recognizable. “Do You Love Me Too” digs deeper into the Four Seasons vocal groove, with an insistent Billy Joel-like piano riff. On the heels of the opening track, this one hits Westerlund’s target much closer, with all elements snapping right into place. The middle section is an unexpected detour into the sounds of Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds.
The title track “Beautiful World” has a Latin-style riff and castanets with sweeping Beatles Mystery Tour-style vocals. It would work great in a ’60s movie montage! “Early On” is a shorter tune that’s mostly lush vocal overdubs with shimmering, strummed electric guitars. “Groovin’” is a cover version (and the only true cover version here) of the classic pop hit by The Young Rascals, and it’s pretty amazing to hear Westerlund tackle a song he’s been influenced by head-on. To even attempt this song is brave, but he pulls it off quite well.
“After All” is yet another song that uses the steady piano rhythms that are most memorable from “The Great Pretender” by The Platters. This is another song where the vocals seem dead on, but there’s a slight disconnect harmonically from the backing tracks. “Love Song” is an instrumental that focuses squarely on the guitars and keyboards, with a steady breeze to tie everything together. It also leads directly into “Here Comes The Rain” and this is yet another song whose structure recalls The Four Seasons, though the vocals not quite as much. “It’s Happening Now” features some especially tasty and clean electric guitar lines.
“Too Late” starts with finger snaps, humming and whistling before kicking back into Westerlund’s boogie woogie sweet spot. The vocals are pitched mostly on the lower end of the scale this time around. “I Wanna Know” ends the album on a wistful, surf ballad note, carried along with guitar and finger snaps.
Based on this album Westerlund’s clearly got the musical chops to go far, though I think in a few cases the stripped-down production may have kept him from fully realizing his goals. I’m hoping he tests out a few different recording situations in the future, but until then this is the most unique and out-of-time album you’ll hear for a good while!