by Van Dyke Parks
Following the success of his classic album reissues last year Bella Union is thrilled and honoured to announce a new album from the truly legendary composer, musician, lyricist, producer and singer Van Dyke Parks. There has been one live album and one soundtrack record in the last 24 years, but Songs Cycled contains the American’s first new material since 1989, expanding even further Parks’ pioneering, and still unique, handle on Americana with the crystal clarity of a 21st century recording. All this in Park’s 70th year, which makes Songs Cycled extremely special indeed in so many ways.
Alongside new originals such as ‘Dreaming of Paris’, ‘Wall Street’ and ‘Missin’ Missippi’, new collaborations such as ‘Sassafras’ and ‘Money Is King’, there are new cover versions and re-recordings of older tracks, and guest vocals from Gaby Moreno and Inara George.
Van Dyke Parks will be performing at the Grizzly Bear-curated I’ll Be Your Mirror festival at Alexandra Palace in May.
Sunday 5 May – LONDON – Alexandra Palace (I’ll Be Your Mirror festival) [tickets]
Songs Cycled is released 6th May on Bella Union. Below is a brief track-by-track breakdown and a few words written by the man himself; who better to shine a light on the extraordinary creative mind of one of the greats of popular American song?
Songs Cycled track-listing:
1. ‘Dreaming of Paris’ (original)
2. ‘Hold Back Time’ (re-recording of a 1995 song from the Orange Crate Art album with Brian Wilson)
3. ‘Sassafras’ (new recording, originally by Billy Edd Wheeler in 1961)
4. ‘Black Gold’ (November 30, ‘02 – a fantasy on the sinking of The Prestige, off the coast of the Bay of Biscay)
5. ‘Aquarium’ (cover of 1886 Saint-Saëns piece, an analogue recording with the Esso Trinidad Steel Band in 1971 – VDP produced their album)
6. ‘Money Is King’ (picks up where Wall Street ends, written with Growling Tiger, a.k.a.- Trinidadian Calypso musician Neville Marcano)
7. ‘Wall Street’ (original)
8. ‘The Parting Hand’ (1835 hymn from the tradition of unaccompanied choral music known as the Sacred Harp)
9. ‘The All Golden’ (new recording from VDP’s 1967album Song Cycle)
10. ‘Wedding in Madagascar’(traditional a capella folk-song, arranged and adapted by VDP)
11. ‘Missin’ Missippi’ (original)
12. ‘Amazing Graces’ (instrumental with the ‘Van Dyke Parks Orchestra’)
Songs Cycled – a note from Van Dyke Parks:
This album is released on Bella Union 45 years from my debut album “Song Cycle” (when I was but 24). In both cases, there’s a maverick on the loose, with a highly personal set of tunes and instrumentals. All of them reveal an iconoclast tilting at windmills, railing at tyrants, barking at masters of war, and celebrating a shameless commitment to the very definition of ‘Americana’. As I was in my brunette era, at age 70, I’m found looking through the glass darkly. These new songs show more than a hint of an eco-politic. In fact, there’s nothing more precious than the song-form to revolutionize popular thoughts and practices that need a jolt of shock therapy. Yet, songwriters must work with a leger demain. A light hand and heart can draw more approval than a heavy-handed scold. My first aim is to entertain the ear with beautiful sounds. I try to do that as an arranger. These pieces reveal my best effort.
I’ve drawn from a grab-bag of American roots music, from the 19th Century forward. (It was, after all, ‘The American Century’). Yet this song-set goes beyond, and muses about ‘9/11’ and other self-inflicted wounds (‘Wall Street’). It explores the American bombing of Baghdad (‘Dreaming of Paris’), the chicanery of Big-Oil (‘Black Gold’). I insist that the song-form is the most potent political tool available. I learned as much from Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, and yes, Bob Dylan.
Still there’s time for folderol. ‘Sassafrass’ captures all I love about the youth I spent in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. It’s a roll in the grass. There’s the renegade arranger in that, reflecting my obsession for studio technique, sound- effects with tuneful percussion that I first heard in 1948, in the music of Spike Jones.
I guess I am like that rusty nail that sticks out, just waiting to be hammered down by an intolerant bastard, with no room for what isn’t rockin’ or classically elite. In truth, I embrace both those worlds. Guilty as charged, I’m wrapped in the flag, looking through the glass, at the world beyond… informed yet optimistic, in my dream escape. It hangs together well, as we must, lest we all hang separately.
I have so many contributing visual artists to thank, for coating it all so deliciously.