Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks’s most significant and best-known collaboration was in 1966 for the Beach Boys’ legendary Smile album, which remained unreleased for decades, though a bit of its material surfaced on 1967’s Smiley Smile. Parks contributed lyrics for that project, which gave birth to such elaborately constructed classics as “Heroes and Villains.”
The pair teamed up again nearly three decades later for Orange Crate Art, which weds Wilson’s vocals to 12 songs, including eight by Parks, one by the late English songwriter Mike Hazlewood, two by Parks and Hazlewood, and one by George Gershwin (“Lullaby”). The album garnered relatively little attention when it first appeared in 1995, but it gets a second chance at the spotlight via a 25th anniversary reissue.
The new edition features remastered audio and a trio of session outtakes: Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Love Is Here to Stay,” plus “What a Wonderful World,” the Bob Thiele/George David Weiss standard that’s most associated with Louis Armstrong. A dispensable bonus disc delivers the original album (except “Lullaby”) without Wilson’s vocals.
The complex melodies on this quirky record lack the pop sensibility that might have been evident had Wilson contributed to the writing; and nothing here measures up to, say, “Heroes and Villains.” That said, the album definitely has its charms. It also represents a notable chapter in Wilson’s career, and it arguably belongs in the collection of any serious fan of his music.
Jenny Reynolds, Any Kind of Angel. On this well-crafted fourth album, Austin, Texas–based folksinger Jenny Reynolds delivers nine originals plus a rendition of Hank Williams’s classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” The understated performances and consistently mellow material aren’t likely to knock your socks off on first listen but give them some time and you may find yourself barefoot. Mark Hallman, one of Austin’s best-regarded producers, oversaw this release, which profits from Reynolds’s warm vocalizing, intelligent lyrics, fingerpicking guitar work, and strong melodies. Highlights include the aforementioned Williams cover; the jazzy, cornet-spiced “The Way That You Tease”; the catchy, lyrically deft “Love and Gasoline”; and the fiddle-flavored title cut.
The Jason Daniels Band, Downloads from the Universe. Downloads from the Universe is the winning second album from Jason Daniels, who comes from Northern California but now lives in Jackson, Mississippi. You can hear the influence of music from both those places on the CD, which draws on multiple genres, including Southern rock, jazz, funk, and even Caribbean music. These recordings sound loose, spontaneous, and reminiscent of 1970s LPs from acts like the Grateful Dead (the Keith and Donna Godchaux era) and Delaney and Bonnie. Platitudes do pop up in some of the lyrics, but the catchy, upbeat songs are engaging enough to put you in a forgiving mood.
Easy Love, Wander Feeler. Wander Feeler is the sophomore album from Southern California–based singer/songwriter Justine Brown, a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, drums, etc.) who records under the name Easy Love. The album (available only digitally and on vinyl) features introspective lyrics that address romantic relationships and self-esteem issues. The breezy music, which incorporates pop, folk, and rock, flows well from start to finish. It highlights lots of jingle-jangle guitar and reverb and layered vocals that variously recall the 1960s’ so-called “girl groups” as well as the softer side of early Deborah Harry. Brown’s emotional openness is a plus throughout, as are her melodic, well-hooked songs, which seem designed to be heard in the sequence they’re presented.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.