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Beyond Playlist: Dennis Wilson and More

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The latest Beyond Playlist includes reviews of the new deluxe reissue of Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, Evan Parker's Boustrophedon, Clay Aiken's On My Way Here and a split seven-inch featuring BLK JKS and Esau Mwamwaya.

Dennis Wilson Pacific Ocean Blue: Legacy Edition (Sony Legacy)

Back in 1977, when it first appeared, Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue was something of a curio – and the more things change, the more they stay the same. The new edition, supplemented by Bambu, a collection of unreleased material Wilson recorded for Caribou, a label owned by Jim Guercio, the man behind Colorado’s Caribou Ranch, still sounds weird over three decades after its release.

Blue was the first solo release by a member of the Beach Boys, and the fact that Dennis, the group’s drummer, who drowned in 1983, seemed like the least likely of the group’s principals to go this route caught even longtime fans off-guard. So, too, did his voice, which was unexpectedly gruff and gravelly, not to mention the songs themselves. The album is front-loaded with the most Beach Boys-like fare, but “River Song” and “What’s Wrong” aren’t nearly as pristine as the surf ditties of yore, and most of the material that follows departs from the format entirely. Indeed, “Friday Night,” “Dreamer” and “End of the Show” have a boozy, messed-up quality that suggests a performer on the brink of losing control entirely – which, given reports about Wilson’s decadent L.A. lifestyle at the time, was probably true.

These qualities are even more dominant on Bambu. Wilson growls like a white boy desperate to locate his inner bluesman on “Under the Moonlight” and cheerfully rationalizes throughout “He’s a Bum,” which features the couplet “People say he lost his way/That’s all right.” Later, during “Time For Bed,” he announces that he doesn’t care about his mother and father an instant after bellowing, “Marijuana, beer and wine is for me!”

Neither of the discs are outstanding as the term is typically applied. But most Beach Boys aficionados will find them to be fascinating and revelatory – an extended look at a man struggling to stay afloat in a sea of temptation that would ultimately claim him. -- Michael Roberts

Evan Parker Boustrophedon (ECM)

Saxophonist Parker recorded this work in 2004 with a collective dubbed the Transatlantic Art Ensemble – a clear, and appropriate, nod to collaborating sax giant Roscoe Mitchell, whose top recordings with the Art Ensemble of Chicago remain among the boldest and most inspirational jazz efforts of their time. But whereas AEC’s early efforts, in particular, could be extremely demanding listens, practically daring listeners weaned on bebop and post-bop to follow improvisation to its logical conclusion, Boustrophedon finds a middle ground between accessibility and challenge.

The album is broken into eight tracks, but the compositions’ titles – “Furrow” 1-6, framed by an overture and a finale – make it clear that they were conceived as a larger piece, not individual entities. To that end, Parker and Mitchell deploy the instrumentalists, including trumpeter/flugelhornist Corey Wilkes and double-bassist Jaribu Shahid, both of whom contribute to AEC’s latest incarnation, with the aplomb of conductors who understand that each note can either add to or detract from the overall impact of even a large-scale effort. Take the transition from “Furrow 2” to “Furrow 4.” Lovely passages dominated by violin, viola and cello lead logically into segments that find the brass players whipping up a storm, only to give way to a lyrical clarinet solo by John Rangecroft and trumpet splats from Wilkes that bristle with humor and energy.

By any name, that’s art. -- Roberts

Clay Aiken On My Way Here (RCA)

American Idol is supposedly the domain of twelve-year olds who have nothing better to do with their lives other than repeatedly text in votes for their faves. But if that’s true, how do we explain Clay Aiken? As a personality, he’s about as sharp and edgy as a Nerf ball, and even compared to the vocal stylings of adult-contemporary performers such as Josh Groban and Michael Bublé, who aren’t exactly paragons or originality, his delivery throughout On My Way Here is almost inconceivably bland. Glad I wasn’t drinking milk when I heard him try to get bluesy on “Everything I Don’t Need,” or it would have sprayed out both of my nostrils an instant later. And as for “Where I Draw the Line,” well, that’s where I drew the line.

Adorable David Archuleta’s loss in the most recent season finale shows that tweens’ power over American Idol has been widely exaggerated. But if they did, Aiken would be singing at a dinner theater in Dubuque, not selling more CDs than all but a few of his contemporaries. Hard to believe the nation’s twelve-year olds could do any worse. -- Roberts

BLK JKS/Esau Mwamwaya "Umbzabalazo"/"Chilombo"

The sixth volume in an excellent seven-inch series co-sponsored by The Fader and Southern Comfort is a change of pace that wasn't really necessary, but it's welcome anyhow. Whereas previous releases have focused on indie-rock figures such as Black Lips, White Williams and Dirty Projectors, the latest slab o' wax features South Africa's BLK JKS, whose "Umbzabalazo" is an irresistible amalgam of reggae-style beats, distorted rock, electronic accoutrements and massed vocals that combine to create a raucous, propulsive sound. On the flip, "Chilombo," by Esau Mwamwaya, a Londoner by way of Malawi, East Africa, offers up subtly affecting vocals that gather power as the track moves forward, underpinned by instrumentation that mates the traditional with the forward-looking.

All in all, another excellent entry -- one that would do any jukebox proud. Better yet, The Fader is giving copies away. Click here to try to win one of your very own. -- Roberts

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