only thing more unusual than Van Dyke Parks’ unique songwriting and
arrangements is hearing the maestro’s first works in 15 years on the seven-inch
format. But the Bananastan has launched a veritable singles clubs around him,
with each seven inch slab coming in a heavy cardboard sleeve, elaborately designed
by a prominent artist.
Street”/”Money is King” features the recognizable style of Maus creator Art Spiegelman,
with an homage to Edward Munch thrown in for good measure. The music finds
Parks at his most elaborate. With tempos and melodies shifting every few bars,
the A-side sounds closer to a musical than anything he did with Brian Wilson.
Even when the setting gets a little too dramatic, Parks’ lyrical imaginary
offers plenty to chew on. The subject matter serves as a tribute to those lost
on September 11, but it could be compared to the current crisis on the title
street. “Money is King” comes from the Growling Tiger, the moniker used by
calypso singer Neville Marcano. It’s good to keep that in mind while listening
to simplicity of the lyrics (which boil down to “rich man= bad” and “poor man =
good”) which are sung over what sounds like an American wedding band in Trinidad.
Ed Ruscha designed the more
minimal “Dreaming of Paris” sleeve, which features “Paris” in bold letters on
the front and a mock-up of the design on the back, the latter being the only
place where Parks’ name appears, in small print. While the previous single
sounds a little heavy, this one is immediately more accessible and catchy.
“Dreaming of Paris”
has a calypso feel to which Parks adds accordion, ukulele, group vocals and
some violins that adds some dissonance to an otherwise bouncy little number.
The instrumental “Wedding in Madagascar”
is another cover of sorts, this time an a cappella folk song from that country,
arranged for mandolin, strings and rhythm section featuring bass guitar.
three’s cover features two life size sculptures of Parks, as rendered by artist
Charles Ray. “Amazing Graces” takes
liberties with the traditional hymn. An orchestra begins playing it in 5/4,
with an accordion taking over. Like some parts of the Parks catalog, it sounds
like a film soundtrack and begs for imagery to accompany the pensive mood it
creates. “Hold Back Time” brings back his somewhat nasally voice, reminiscing
about small town life, complete with astute imagery and internal rhyme (“Tell
that old clock on the wall/ you’ll just have to call it/ a day.”). Even if the musical approach doesn’t
completely hook you, it’s admirable to hear a song like this, so exquisitely
arranged with strings, electric guitar and a chorus of voices. It’s hard to
believe that singles with regularly made with these ingredients.
singles, scheduled for release early next year include: wonderful tracks such
as “Aquarium,” a rendering of Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” played on
steel drums; and a remake of “The All Golden,” from Parks infamous Song Cycle album. Artwork for these
respective singles will be done by Smile artist Frank Holmes and Revolver designer Klaus Voorman.
DOWNLOAD: “Dreaming of Paris,” “Wedding in Madagascar.” MIKE SHANLEY