Van Dyke Parks - Discover America (1970)

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Dad seems to have rediscovered the work of prolific yet enigmatic songwriter Van Dyke Parks recently. Parks, who is now 70 years young, will actually release his first proper solo album in 24 years this month. 

That new record is titled Song Cycled, an allusion to his debut solo album Song Cycle  which I reviewed last year. Song Cycle is often referred to as a masterpiece – it’s folksy and tuneful, but abstract enough to let you know that there’s a whole lot more going on than just a guy making a record. For Van Dyke Parks, music is an intellectual process.

That can be off-putting for some. We all love a good head-scratcher, but nobody want to see Captain Beefheart play the Super Bowl halftime show. Actually, that sounds kind of awesome...

I have to admit – Song Cycle did seem a bit too heady for me at times. Parks clearly has a vast knowledge of the history of music, but is also able to distill it with his own very specific and singular vision. This sometimes felt a little heavy-handed.

So it took me a while to move on to Parks’ second album, Discover America. With such a grandiose title and my Song Cycle experience still fresh in my head, I figured I’d be in for a album that would be, quite frankly, exhausting.

Boy was I wrong.


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Discover America may be as intellectual a pursuit as Song Cycle, but it doesn’t FEEL like it. Perhaps it’s the easy-going feel of the Trinidad-ian calypso music he integrates into the album, or that his references to Bing Crosby, Jack Palance, and the Mills Brothers aren’t lost on me. Whatever it is, I liked Discover America upon first listen.

And so will you. It's catchy, intelligent, and WAY ahead of its time. I could have told you that this song was from brooklyn art-house band Dirty Projectors, and you might have believed me. 

[ mp3 ]: Van Dyke Parks – Occa Pella

And, as a sucker for strings, the short but beautifully orchestrated "The Four Mills Brothers" is a joy.

[ mp3 ]: Van Dyke Parks – The Four Mills Brothers

And there's plenty of whimsy (and steel drum !) in this one:

[ mp3 ]: Van Dyke Parks – Be Careful

And this one's just awesome:

[ mp3 ]: Van Dyke Parks - FDR in Trinidad

Overall, this album is a real stunner. I can't suggest it highly enough.

-N.W.


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5 / 5 DADS

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5 / 5 SONS




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