Ben Vaughn Combo: Beautiful Thing (1987)

Ben Vaughn has long been one of the great traditionalists of the modern age, mining the humble sounds of '50s rock & roll and rockabilly and country and giving them a fresh (but not too fresh) sheen. His stripped-down musicality and heart-on-his-sleeve lyrical guilelessness at times resembles Jonathan Richman, but without the wild-eyed childlike whimsy.

1987's Beautiful Thing is one of his earliest full-length releases, back before he dropped the "Combo," and it's a work of unassuming joy. It sounds like the local band set up on the lawn behind the bar with the Pabst Blue Ribbon sign, playing a short set while they barbecued a few slabs of ribs. There are some playful rockers like the barnburning "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme" and party romp "She's A Real Scream" and the surf rock instrumental "Desert Boots," but for the most part it's mid-tempo acoustic Americana-tinged rock and balladry, picked guitars and stand-up bass and the occasional accordion solo. Openers "Jerry Lewis In France" and "Clothes Don't Make The Man" set the sweet, lightly humorous tone for the album. My personal fave, the gentle "Shingaling With Me," wraps you in its warm embrace, while "Big House With A Yard" sounds like the perfect mash-up of Buddy Holly and Jonathan Richman and an unplugged Yo La Tengo.

Vaughn's released a lot of great music over the years, but this one is a fine entry point.

Here's the video for "Jerry Lewis":

...and a live "Shingaling":
...and a later live take on "Clothes":