Van Dyke Parks - Songs Cycled
Having just turned 70 Van Dyke Parks looks very much like a favourite uncle, with his white hair, well groomed mustache, and his winding anecdotal way of speaking and writing. It’s difficult to match this image of him now with the stories of his work with The Beach Boys in the 60s. It does mean his recent resurgence and reappraisal of his early work is somewhat surprising though. After his work with Joanna Newsom on her second album in 2003, up and coming record label Bella Union re-released his first three albums last year to further acclaim. His new album Songs Cycled is as idiosyncratic as the rest of Parks' career, its songs a mix of re-interpretations of old, ‘new’ originals, and covers of music from as far back as 1835... seriously.
Parks has littered this album with a diverse selection of influences from a host of places and times. If you fancy being transported to a Parisian boulevard there’s the gallic ‘Dreaming of Paris’. Maybe you’ve always wanted to hear a Caribbean steel drum version of ‘Aquarium’, the classical piece by Saint-Saëns from 1886. 'Sassafras' sounds like a refugee from The Sound of Music. 'Black Gold' has all the hallmarks of a show tune from the West End. When you throw in the deep south stylings of 'The Parting Hand' (an adaptation of a hymn from 1835), snippets of songs that sound like the incidental music from an episode of Poirot and liberal use of the accordion, you've got a disjointed, if jolly, collection of tunes. It just about hangs together as an album thanks to Parks’ unique vocal delivery. The bottom line is that Van Dyke Parks isn’t for everyone, and this bizarre collection of music is not going to do anything to change that fact. If you’re a fan or have a propensity for music from another time and place, then double the big number below.