Saturday, February 19, 2005


Two albums were, to my mind, sadly overlooked at the Grammys. In 2004 Brian Wilson released a newly-sequenced and newly-recorded SMiLE, the epic of American innocence and experience that was to have been the followup to The Beach Boys' 1966 Pet Sounds. SMiLE never happened back then, ending up as an abandoned, unreleased Beach Boys album and the greatest "lost" recording in pop music. For BW and lyricist Van Dyke Parks to have brought SMiLE to completion 38 years later makes for a human interest story that's hard to match. And in its music and lyrics, SMiLE is extraordinary. It's received rave reviews and has sold a respectable 300,000 or so copies (maybe more by now).

I really was hoping (always the optimist) that the Grammys would recognize that 2004 was, among other things, the year of SMiLE. That would have been a sweet finish to an amazing chapter in The Brian Wilson Story. But SMiLE won only a single Grammy, for best rock instrumental ("Mrs. O'Leary's Cow"). For many listeners, though, SMiLE was the album of the year, 38 years later.

My other album of the year is Nellie McKay's Get Away from Me, a debut "double-album" (18 songs on two cds) by an inspired songwriter-singer-pianist. McKay (pronounced "mc KYE") has been compared to Eminem and Doris Day, but such comparisons are hype rather than accurate description. McKay is in truth a writer of funny, sharp, poignant lyrics, a composer of very memorable tunes, an accomplished pianist, and a singer of great flexibility who's well acquainted with pop, rock, hip-hop, and jazz idioms. (And she sings on pitch!) She is, as her album title suggests, something of an anti-Norah Jones, a performer whose energy and quirkiness could never work as bookstore background-music.

You can find links for Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, and Nellie McKay to your right on the sidebar.

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