Bowling Balls Knocking Together?

Or is Tom Jones back in town?

A genuine innovator whose sound has been (unsuccessfully) copped by acts ranging from Tom Waits to P.J. Harvey to Nick Cave, Beefheart (ne Don Van Vliet) and his Magic Band mixed free jazz, Delta blues, punk attitude, absurdist lyrics, quirky time signatures and psychotic vocals into something so unique and highly influential that points of reference almost don't apply. This music is extremely difficult to play, and a daunting task to listen to—a case of machine-like precision disguised as anarchic disarray.

The Dust Blows Forward presents a body of work that is nothing short of astonishing. Hypnotic, disturbing, amusing and challenging, there's a cohesion and flow to this collection, from the first strains of bent mid-'60s blooze rock to the last surreal notes Beefheart sang/screamed that bespeak the vision of a true genius—and I do not use the word lightly.

Beefheart is now stricken with multiple sclerosis and couldn't return to music even if he wanted to, but most of this stuff sounds so fresh and inspired it could have been recorded last week. This collection will serve as a fine tribute to a guy who created some of the most interesting, indefinable sounds of the 20th century.

Tom Jones plays the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos, (800) 300-4345. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. $47-$57; Billy Bragg performs with Freedy Johnston, at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930. Sun., 8 p.m. $23.50.
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