With 30 Top 40 hits, including 13 Top 10s and four number ones, this amounts to the California pop group’s equivalent of the Beatles’ 1 or the Rolling Stones’ Forty Licks. Brian Wilson and his short-sleeved cohorts practically invented summer music with breezy guitars and carefree tunes full of mellifluous harmonies. The highlights of this collection include such pop gems as “I Get Around,” “Help Me Rhonda” and “Good Vibrations.” Only 1988’s Kokomo” sounds lame, although it too enjoyed massive airplay. An unrivalled—and impossibly sunny—body of work.
If the Beach Boys conjure up visions of surfing, California girls and a woody on the beach, R.L. Burnside’s buzzing, down-home blues brings to mind back-porch summer nights with crickets and bullfrogs and the gut-warming comfort of aged southern whiskey. Burnside’s Delta music rocks hard—even when it consists, as it does here, of just guttural voice and acoustic guitar. Tracks like “Skinny Woman” and “My Time Ain’t Long” give off a raw heat that leaves the listener sweating and thirsty for more.
Farrar is one of the godfathers of alt-country, having forged a fusion of punk and country with Jeff Tweedy in Uncle Tulepo and then in his own band, Son Volt (Tweedy went on to form Wilco). Farrar’s solo work, however, is more folk than thrash or twang. His latest album evokes Harvest-era Neil Young on “California,” with its moaning vocals, and John Fahey on “Out on the Road,” with its dreamy flute and droning guitar. Too laid back by half, Farrar’s music could use a fresh injection of punk voltage.
Vancouver’s 54-40 proves they’ve lost none of the feistiness or melodic strengths that characterized much of the band’s best work in the mid-80s and early ‘90s. From the cocky guitar of the opening rocker “Ride” and the Little Richard-invoking screamer “Animal in Pain” to such tuneful romantic delights as “Take Me Out” and “Secrets,” this album captures a veteran rock band at the peak of its powers. And lead singer Neil Osborne’s vocals have never sounded so good. Hello maturity.
A roots-rock supergroup, featuring Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden and Tom Wilson, BARK was formed initially as a Willie P. Bennett tribute band. But it expanded to pay homage to other great Canadian songwriters, including Bruce Cockburn, David Wiffen, Murray McLauchlan and Fred Eaglesmith. BARK’s latest features covers of Bennett’s “Willie Diamond Joe” and Cockburn’s “Tie Me at the Crossroads.” There’s also plenty of first-rate originals, including “If I Catch You Cryin’” and “Jackie Washington,” a rollicking nod to the unsung Canadian blues legend.