“Smile,” Brian Wilson, 2004, Nonesuch Records, Inc.

I was a surfer and an early fan of the Beach Boys. My wife attended the same high school they did. From those perspectives, we watched the band quickly become famous for their “Surfer Music” style.

In 1966, Brian Wilson began exploring different music styles. His dream project was called “Smile,” a rock opera. However, the band and the recording company killed the idea. This was three years before “Tommy” by The Who and 13 years before “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. In 1967, as a final bow, Brian and the band recorded “Smiley Smile,” featuring tracks from “Pet Sounds” and some tracks from “Smile.”

Now fast forward to 2002, past Brian’s battles with depression and the deaths of his two brothers. In a creative rush, he polished those dusty lyrics and produced “Smile,” embellished with woodwinds, horns and strings. His 2004 London debut was greeted with standing ovations. Besides the new tracks, “Smile” includes favorites like “Good Vibrations,” “Heroes and Villains,” and “Vege-tables.” Nostalgia oozes from every track. Brian, faithful to his dream, has achieved closure. But I felt shortchanged to find just 47 minutes of the music I grew up with. I expected more.

“Grace of the Sun”

Richie Havens, Stormy Forest Productions, 2004

Richie Havens is back – with a vengeance. I first heard Richie in the early 1970s at a small club in Southern California. I quickly collected his vinyl recordings of socially relevant songs that were embellished with his signature guitar style.

I saw him again in the mid-1980s in San Francisco, still singing the protest songs but with a New Age flair. I lost track of him for several years when he stopped recording but continued to play small clubs and special events with a small band.

With “Grace of the Sun,” Richie has re-invented himself. The social relevance is still strong but there is a new sophistication in his music. Not only do we hear his unique strumming style, his left foot tapping out a base drum sound, but we also hear a full spectrum of musical accompaniment from acoustic and electric guitars, conga and bongo drums, flute, electric sitar, Turkish violin, cello, tabla, guitarrone, sarod and bazouki. Richie has written and arranged six of the 10 tracks. There are covers of songs by Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Fred Neil and Jack Hammer. The four-minute instrumental track, “Dusk,” will take you on a journey to mythic places.

– William J. Clark

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