Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, March 31, 2006
      ( 3/31/2006 07:39:00 AM ) Bill S.  

THE WARMTH OF THE SUN – On the road a lot lately, so I've been spending time pulling out older CDs and getting to know 'em again. Yesterday, I brought a disc with me that I hadn’t paid much attention to before: a country anthology of Beach Boys songs entitled Stars and Stripes, Volume 1. Bought this baby several years ago for five bucks at a Big Lots; the 1996 release was not a big seller when it came out and pretty much a critical flop, too, if I remember correctly. Perhaps the most ominous aspect of this collection: it's Executive Produced by Mike Love, seen by many Beach Boys fans (myself included) as the group's reactionary, the man who did more to push our favorite group of California Boys into an irrelevant oldies act than any number of Brian Wilson meltdowns.

To my ears, though, the CD isn't half bad. There are few awkward moments (though the first comes with Lorrie Morgan's album opener, "Don't Worry Baby," which attempts to negotiate a change in first person gender but doesn't quite make it). But even the journey-singer covers (Sawyer Brown's "I Get Around," Toby Keith's apt-but-unsurprising "Be True to Your School," and so on) carry enough left-over good vibrations to get by. And the set has several tracks that do more than just make you think good thoughts about the original BBoys catalog: Junior Brown's cover of "409" slips his characteristic slithery guitar work into the mix; Willie Nelson's remake of "Warmth of the Sun" turns out to be beautifully suited to his more introspective crooning style, while Doug Supernaw's version of "Long Tall Texan" (a non-original that the Boys themselves covered on their first In Concert album) is just plain fun. I also enjoyed Kathy Troccoli's "I Can Hear Music," in large part because I think the 20/20 track is one of the band's underappreciated cuts.

The surviving Boys (Brian & Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine & relief hitter Bruce Johnston) appear on most of the album's tracks doing their trademark harmonies, but really the focus remains on the lead country singers. That shift in focus may be part of the reason that the album didn't do better: for all their internecine squabbles, the Beach Boys sound was a group sound, the work of a bunch of buddies getting together, not some singer with backup. There never was a Stars and Stripes, Volume 2, though, and it's probably a good thing. I have to admit I had a good time singing along to Vol. One in the car, though . . .

NOTE: Looking to see if there ever was a Volume Two that I’d somehow missed, I came upon this spiffy (if out-of-date) critical overview of Beach Boys albums by Wilson & Alroy.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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