Big Swell

It's been four years since San Francisco surf rockers the Mermen put out, but the band hasn't been sleeping with the fishes. As they prove on The Amazing California Health and Happiness Road Show, they've been floating new ideas and just plain percolating.

Road Show is by far the most accomplished and engaging Mermen offering yet, a crowded net of styles and articulate instrumental situations presided over by founding songwriter/guitarist Jim Thomas.

The whisper to a scream "Unto the Resplendent" (RealAudio excerpt) opens the show, instantly showcasing things to come, followed by "White Trash Raga," which proves the Mermen know their way around a Far Eastern-influenced musical fantasy. "Merry Go Round" (RealAudio excerpt) is a soft, soothing ode to something, a light-headed lullaby that sounds like Brian Wilson tripping on peyote.

The Mermen have always owed a heavy debt to Jimi Hendrix and the songs on Road Show give it up to the great one with creative intensity. Elsewhere, "Emmylou Rides Clarence West Then South" is a nod to Clarence White, while "Little Stinky Kitty" (RealAudio excerpt) conjures images of the Charlie Daniels Band in primal scream therapy.

Road Show will surely continue to tweak preconceptions and blow the minds of people who thought surf music wiped out long ago.