VARIOUS ARTISTS, Caroline Now!: The Songs of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys (Marina) Since a substantial chunk of contemporary underground pop could be filed

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CD Reviews

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Caroline Now!: The Songs of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys (Marina) Since a substantial chunk of contemporary underground pop could be filed under Brian Wilson homage, a Beach Boys tribute album starring these types of musicians may seem redundant. Only Caroline Now! doesn't simply dig up the usual suspects. This goes for both the songs—the album mainly concentrates on obscurities—as well as the list of performers, which includes legendary oddballs such as Alex Chilton and Kim Fowley along with "Wild Thing" scribe Chip Taylor and '60s pop group the Free Design. With 24 numbers played by as many acts, there are definitely some clunkers (e.g., the Aluminum Group's clumsy "Caroline, No"). But particularly when showcasing Wilson's often disregarded post-Pet Sounds work, the collection succeeds smilingly. Belle and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson cuddles up inside of 1969's "Good Time"; Jad Fair (who's afflicted with a case of arrested development similar to Wilson's) yaps 1977's "Do Ya" with characteristic nasally charm; and the Pastels' Katrina Mitchell purrs "Wind Chimes" over piano backing from jazzbo Bill Wells. The record's brightest moment, however, belongs to "Lady"—a song penned not by Brian, but by his "wildman" brother Dennis. First issued in 1969 under the moniker Dennis Wilson & Rumbo, it appears here batting leadoff, drenched in a luxuriant backdrop and emoted through the honey-coated throat of Eugene Kelly. It's infectious enough to trick listeners into believing that even though Brian may have gotten all the boy-genius DNA, he isn't necessarily the only Wilson worthy of tribute.—Jay Ruttenberg

SENSATIONAL, Heavyweighter (Wordsound) Known as MC Torture back when he was in the Jungle Brothers, Sensational helped the group create its most experimental work, released last year by Wordsound as a 10-inch titled The Payback EP under the name Crazy Wisdom Masters. But Sensational's recent solo outings make what he did with that group sound like Mantovani scoring Celine Dion. His beats, so thick and irregular you keep checking to see if your CD player is functioning correctly, could have been discovered at the bottom of a dumpster. The production on the new Heavyweighter is cleaner than on his previous pair of cult classics (1997's Loaded with Power and last year's Corner the Market), but it's still minimal and deeply off-kilter. When he takes it to the bridge on "Sittin' on Top," we get a four-note keyboard riff that sounds like it was recorded underwater—and that's it. As ever, Sensational's rapping leaves the listener awestruck at its antivirtuosity. In an era when MCs strive for vivid narrative detail, razor-sharp flow, and ultra-articulate verbosity, Sensational's incredibly repetitive word choices seem specifically tailored toward moving his lips and tongue as little as possible. As the music grinds mesmerizingly along underneath the aptly titled "Other Side of the Black Hole," his boast that "Captain Kirk wanna analyze my words" is highly believable: This music is as alien as anything the Enterprise ever encountered.—Michaelangelo Matos

MOCEAN WORKER, Aural & Hearty (Palm) Adam Dorn—a.k.a. Mocean Worker—wears a new face with his latest project. Mixed Emotional Features stuck to jazz and drum-and-bass, all with a darker tone. Aural & Hearty finds Dorn darting from place to place in a raved-out Speed Buggy and sporting his musical talents with a hop in his hip and mischief in his smile. "Hey Baby" struts in, already flirting and ready to do The Bump with the cute honey over by the coffee table. "Velvet Black Sky" slinks out of the speakers with a martini in one hand and bossa nova on the brain. There's something that sounds remotely like French house over here, then there's a number that's distinctly electro from over there. Of course, there's always time for a seventh- inning stretch, and one should always wind things up with a smooth cool down. Dorn's game of Frogger with dance music styles builds the album's playful feel, staying quite clear of overdoing it. This time around our Mocean Worker is the Candy Man, and he's got a little bit for every taste and enough of it all for everybody. You can even eat the slip mats.—Gregory Parks

JULIE CASCIOPPO, Something Cool (Self-released) Julie Cascioppo's been a saucy regular at the Pink Door since the Reagan administration. And now that she's getting ready to blow town (Europe, no less) you simply owe it to yourself—and to her—to pick up her latest self-produced disc to enjoy over cocktails in your own home. On this collection of novelty pop, standards, and originals, Cascioppo hovers delicately on the cusp of camp, without ever getting too whole hog about it. She's loopy and loungy, but she's also a damn fine singer, with a voice that's full of character, unlike the ethereal prettiness that's currently in vogue with bloodless types such as Diana Krall and Jane Monheit. And she can wring more meaning out of a language I don't know (Portuguese) than those two superstars manage to get out of English. Cascioppo does tunes like "Some Cats Know" and "Like Young" with the perfect balance of jazz cool and cabaret cheese, and also tenderly reinvents "Stop in the Name of Love" as a kind of syrupy ballad crossed with "Moonlight Sonata." Her own tune "I'm a Good Italian Mother" is hysterical. Expert studio backing comes from a group that includes her longtime pianist Ben Fleck, a pure pro throughout, and from local journeyman saxophonist Hans Teuber, who does everything from a perfect little Cuban/Italian mambo riff on flute to a breathy Houston Person-style turn on tenor. Like a meal at her old haunt, this one's simple, tasty, and made for your delectation.—Mark D. Fefer

Julie Cascioppo will have a "going-away bash" at the Pink Door on Tuesday, October 24.

 
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