le label londonien bella union de ROBIN GUTHRIE et SIMON RAYMONDE réédite trois albums de l’immense songwriter VAN DYKES PARKS

29 Mai

Bella Union are proud to announce the long-awaited reissue of three of the most highly prized and visionary albums from one of the most influential figures of twentieth century music, Van Dyke Parks.

If you need an entry point to Van Dyke Parks’ extraordinary solo albums, you only need to know his life story. A musical prodigy and child actor, a session musician, composer, soundtrack writer, arranger, lyricist, and singer, he’s been a significant contributor to several decades’ worth of classics, including a handful of unassailable masterpieces. His own music is as cinematic as it is from the heart, a fantastical, even phantasmagorical trawl through a uniquely eclectic and daring landscape.

The American, now 69 years old, perhaps best known for penning the lyrics to The Beach Boys’ legendary masterpiece ‘Smile’. More recently, his arrangements helped turn Joanna Newsom’s second album ‘Ys’ into an epic. But the true riches of Van Dyke Park’s legacy remain his first three solo albums: Song Cycle (1968), Discover America (1972) and Clang Of The Yankee Reaper (1975). This trio of acclaimed records defined Americana decades before the term was invented. An expansive Americana that didn’t merely tap the post-war roots in folk and country music that we expect from the genre, but an all-embracing vision that included ragtime, vaudeville, jazz, bluegrass, psychedelia, classical and calypso, unified by a singer-songwriter spirit as much in line with Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson as Park’s collaborator Brian Wilson.

Born in 1943 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Parks first learnt clarinet while his brothers played trumpet, French horn and Euphonium. Aged nine, he boarded at New Jersey’s Columbus Boychoir School, but he also acted as a way to pay his tuition, amassing over 80 TV appearances and select theatre and film roles, acting opposite Hollywood royalty such as Lillian Gish, Grace Kelly and Alec Guinness. In 1962, seeking a hiatus from studying composition at Carnegie Tech, Van toured California’s coffee houses with his brother Carson before winning his first arranging job, none other than the legendary « The Bare Necessities » for Disney’s Jungle Book movie.

Park’s first recording contract was with MGM but after playing on The Byrds and Judy Collins albums and arranging for Tim Buckley, he signed to Warner Bros in 1966 while also writing with Brian Wilson, who’d put word out for a more adventurous lyricist than Pet Sounds collaborator Pete Asher. Under pressure from his band (Mike Love accused Parks’ lyrics of “acid alliteration”) and his own drug problems, Wilson was forced to shelve the hugely ambitious and ground-breaking Smile, but Parks picked up the baton and embarked on a song cycle of his own.

Lyrically, Park claims the “free-relating lyrics” of Song Cycle were influenced by, among others, the Beat poets, James Joyce and Bob Dylan.” Musically, the stylistic variety was, “a natural product of my wide experience, at age 24, of many musical genres. I was just following my own understanding of what music could reflect.”

Song Cycle was less conventionally pop, in verse-chorus fashion, than Smile; the mood was something like a baroque psychedelic dream filtered through Disney and music hall, with what Parks calls a, “flamboyant and a more flaming individuality. You can’t reach anything great without that kind of courage. I love the Liverpool taxi cab drivers’ motto, « Boldly going forward because we can’t find reverse. » That’s become my philosophy!”

After various producing jobs, including debut albums by Randy Newman and Ry Cooder, Parks’ next solo missive was Discover America. The album was a major and extraordinary departure, with most songs written by Calypso musicians from Trinidad & Tobago between the 1920s & 40s, though in Parks’ hands, the songs wove a bigger and more complex picture. The themes reflected facets of American history, from Bing Crosby to actor Jack Palance and political figures Franklin Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover – in other words, a way to discover America via the songs of outsiders.

The public at large were once again intrigued and perplexed by this move, but Parks had no problem with progressing artistically at the expense of commercial considerations. His third album Clang of the Yankee Reaper widened the remit to include Caribbean, New Orleans, classical and pop strains alongside Calypso, such as “Another Dream” by vocal trio The Sandpipers’ and a sublime modernist take on Pachelbel’s « Canon in D. »

Other solo Parks albums are 1982’s Jump (songs adapted from the stories of Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit), 1990’s Tokyo Rose (the history of Japanese/U.S. relations from the 19th century) and 1997’s Moonlighting: Live at the Ash Grove. There have been film scores and children’s books, and scores for a dizzying array of talent, including Little Feat, Arlo Guthrie and Bonnie Raitt. In the 80s and 90s, Aaron Neville, Carly Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Fiona Apple, Eliza Carthy and The Buena Vista Social Club were among the benefactors; more recently, Rufus Wainwright, Inara George, Silverchair and The Shortwave Set alongside Newsom.

But for fans, those initial three albums are still his most fascinating and satisfying works, slices of American musical history that are of their time and yet truly timeless. As allmusic.com wrote about Song Cycle, “nothing escapes Parks’ radar, and the sheer eclecticism and individualism of his work is remarkable. The album is both forward-thinking and backward-minded, a collision of bygone musical styles with the progressive sensibilities of the late ’60s… a one-of-a-kind record, the product of true inspiration.

Van Dyke Parks

Born in Mississippi in 1943, Parks was extraordinary even as a child, a musical prodigy and actor who later became a session musician, composer, producer, arranger, lyricist, and singer. His own music is as cinematic, fantastical and even phantasmagorical as it is from the heart. Song Cycle was less conventionally pop, in verse-chorus fashion, than Smile; the mood was something like a baroque psychedelic dream filtered through Disney and music hall. Discover America was a major departure, with most songs written by pre-war Calypso musicians from Trinidad & Tobago but given Parks’ highly individual spin. Clang Of The Yankee Reaper further wove New Orleans, classical and pop strains alongside Calypso and Caribbean rhythms.

There have been more albums since, plus film scores, children’s books and arrangements for a dizzying array of talent (including Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Rufus Wainwright), but the jewels in Parks’ legacy remain those first three albums, slices of musical history both of their time and truly timeless.

Bella Union will release Song Cycle, Discover America and Clang Of The Yankee Reaper in June 2012.

BELLA UNION Record label owned and operated by Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde

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