Van Dyke Parks

Idiosyncratic Path: The Best of Van Dyke Parks

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With the word "idiosyncratic" right there in the title, it should be no surprise that a compilation of the recordings of Van Dyke Parks should represent someone's individual taste. In this case, that person is Alan Price, who is given credit for "compilation," which presumably means the selection and sequencing of the tracks. (There are also brief liner notes, which are uncredited.) But other factors may be at work. The album's 19 tracks are drawn from only three of Parks' five studio albums, Song Cycle (1968), Discover America (1972), and Clang of the Yankee Reaper (1975), with nothing from Jump! (1984) or Tokyo Rose (1989). They are "issued under license from Van Dyke Parks," which may indicate that the artist has gained ownership of his master recordings for his first three LPs, while the subsequent two are still the property of Warner Bros. Records, and thus not available for licensing. In any case, Parks' albums are conceptual entities, so they don't lend themselves readily to sampling. Price has chosen to emphasize Discover America, which contributes ten tracks, with four from Song Cycle and five from Clang of the Yankee Reaper, and to mix the material up into a new sequence. So, for instance, the pairing of "Vine Street" and "Palm Desert" that leads off Song Cycle turns up here as tracks 10 and 11. By de-emphasizing Song Cycle, Price puts the focus on the Caribbean styles that dominated the second and third albums. Parks has a great affection for xylophones, marimbas, and steel drums, and many of the tracks here feature those instruments prominently, with his inventive horn and string charts added. The sampling tends to give greater attention to individual songs, notably the lovely instrumental arrangement of, as Parks called it, "Donovan's Colours" (another track from Song Cycle, here used as the lead-off track), and the light-hearted version of the Little Feat song "Sailin' Shoes." Any random selection and sequencing of 19 Parks songs from the three albums would be worthwhile, and, in effect, that's what this is. If it causes anyone to seek out the albums in full, it will have served its purpose.