Some three years in the making, Caroline Now! The Songs of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys is more than just a much deserved tribute to arguably the greatest of all American pop bands; it's also a lovely and engaging introduction to some of the finest talent the contemporary pop world has to offer, highlighted by such newsworthy developments as the reemergence of ex-Vaselines frontman Eugene Kelly
(the Spector-esque opener "Lady"), the solo debut of Belle and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson
(the wistful "Good Time"), and, most remarkably, the first new Free Design recording in some three decades (the rapturous "Endless Harmony"). Wisely, the set focuses on the Beach Boys
' more obscure material (much of it dating from the 1970s), a decision that allows the performers far more latitude in imprinting their personal stamps on the songs; at the same time, with so many of the acts featured on Caroline Now! making their admiration for Brian Wilson
's work thoroughly evident in their own records, there's nothing too radical either; the High Llamas
' "Anna Lee, the Healer," for example, sounds exactly like you'd expect it would. Still, by and large, the disc boasts an artistry and consistency most tributes lack, thanks as much to the brilliance of its subject as to the torch-carrying affections of its contributors; with Mike Love
beating a dead horse leading an ad-hoc Beach Boys lineup on the state fair circuit and with Wilson himself touring in what often seems like a musical adaptation of Flowers for Algernon, god only knows it's reassuring that at least someone's keeping their musical spirit truly alive.