Van Dyke Parks
Warner Bros. BS 2589
Van Dyke Parks, surely one of the most inventive musical minds in the business, is definitely not for everybody. His first album Song Cycle came out in 1968 and even aficionados are still hard at work trying to figure it out: both the lyrics and melodic/harmonic styles almost defy description, and on Discover America they are nearly as intricate. Parks uses Caribbean rhythms, '30 lyrics, modern pop, rhythm and blues and atonal classical techniques blended into a kind of composite musical picture of the United States for his sixteen-song 1972 opus; and in many places it's impossible to crack right away. Rampant counterpoint, counter-rhythms, odd harmonic progressions, non-resolving chords and obscure lyrics all serve to produce an intriguing, but frustrating, musical meld. When the numbers are more structured, one is in a better position to see just what kind of improvements Parks can make -- the first three songs on the second side form the most coherent unit -- and by their mere accessibility, they invite analysis.
Parks once did a commercial for Datsun which involved atonal use of a Moog synthesizer, which is a fairly good indication of how he feels about combining the avant-garde with the commercially viable. I doubt Discover America well sell many more copies than Song Cycle did, but anyone who has the inclination (and endurance) to dip into either will be rewarded amply for his pains. This means you!
- Mark Leviton, Words & Music, 9/72.
Parks turns to the music of Trinidad here, especially as it was heard in the 40s, which means tributes to "Bing Crosby" and "The Four Mills Bros.," not to mention "G-Man Hoover" and "FDR in Trinidad," played on steel drums and other indigenous instruments. A charming, idiosyncratic genre exercise. * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
On his sophomore effort, Discover America, Parks finds America... in the Caribbean. The album boasts lovely, languid renditions of great songs such as Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes." * * *
- Simon Glickman, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
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