Van Dyke Parks
Renaissance Man: A person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.
Or you could just say “Van Dyke Parks.”
A child actor in 1958 in The Swan with Alec Guinness and Grace Kelly at age 15. At 19, he signed to MGM Records. In 1966 he worked as a lyricist for Brian Wilson, ultimately collaborating on the legendary lost Beach Boys’ album Smile. As a producer he worked on the early records of Randy Newman and Ry Cooder, did arrangements for everyone from Little Feat to Syd Straw, played keyboards for the Byrds and the Grateful Dead. He’s an award-winning children’s book author, as well as a composer for the theatre. So we can forgive him if it’s taken him a few years between studio releases, since the great Orange Crate Art with Brian Wilson in 1995. He’s a busy fella!
His newest effort is a series of vinyl singles, six in all, featuring cover art from some interesting modern artists such as Art Spiegelman (Maus), Frank Holmes, cover artist for Smile, his wife, watercolorist Sally Parks, and more. Each single is a beautiful, unique creation, as are the songs within. First up is “Dreaming of Paris/Wedding in Madagascar”, both sounding like soundtracks to a gilded age. “Paris” is a lushly orchestrated travelogue full of impish lyrics and swooning, crooning vocals. “Wedding in Madagascar” is a spritely instrumental that wouldn’t sound out of place, with its lilting strings, as the soundtrack to a forgotten film. The second single, “Wall Street” and “Money is King” showcase Parks’ wonderful way with an arrangement, as the music crescendos and falls behind lyrics such as “Wall Street”:
I can see nothin’ but ash in the air/Confetti all colored with blood/ The jewel-encrusted mud-flattened Hudson/ She’s beaten and battered and buttressed and broke/ Dining on dregs, gone begging, no joking/ And in the confetti is human desire, love-letters lost in space, now smoking/ The mouth of the river yawning south to the sea
“Money is King” is a humorous take on class and its attendant problems, all solved by the mighty dollar. “Love is blind, but it isn’t free”. Oh how true. Van Dyke Parks is a man of many talents, and his fans will be glad to hear him behind the piano, spinning yarns. Welcome back, Van Dyke Parks!