Monday, November 7, 2011

The Parks mark

Van Dyke Parks, Arrangements, Volume 1.
Bananastan B3300. 2011.
Playing time: 39:28.

Arrangements, Volume 1 is the first of two compilations of Van Dyke Parks’s work as an arranger, on his own recordings and others’. (Parks has worked with many, many musicians: here’s an incomplete list.) Each of the fifteen selections here bears the Parks mark of sonic density and tonal variety, which makes for a jukebox of considerable range and sophistication: calypso (with Bonnie Raitt), funk (with Little Feat), a production number (with Ry Cooder), reggae (with a very plausible Dino Martin), straightfaced soft-rock (with Sal Valentino), and Tex-Mex (with Lowell George).

Most appealing to me are this album’s early (and until now relatively inaccessible) Parks recordings: the swirling keyboards and umpteen (I’d say nine) key changes of “Donovan’s Colours” (the 45 mono mix, released under the pseudonym George Washington Brown), the bright choiring voices of “Come to the Sunshine,” the brass-heavy fits and starts of “Out on the Rolling Sea,” an orchestral interpretation of the Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence’s idiosyncratic style (in Spence’s signature key of D), and “Ice Capades,” a forty-four-second flurry of synthesizer high jinks created for a late-sixties Ice Capades commercial. And perhaps best of all, Parks’s version of “The Eagle and Me,” whose bassoon, oboe, and percussive clicks and rasps suggest a happily creaking and croaking menagerie. It’s a rare musician who can take up the songs of Joseph Spence and Harold Arlen and make them both sound like parts of his own soul. Onward to the next volume.

Track listings at Bananastan Records.

Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts (via Pinboard)

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