Since he released his second album, Discover America, in 1972, Van Dyke Park's career has found him returning again and again to the notion of how cultures merge and clash through music, with no shortage of wit and imagination as he observes how America views the rest of the world, and how the rest of the world views America. In addition to being an astute cultural commentator, Parks is one of the greatest arrangers in American pop music, capable of spinning grand sonic vistas with a studio orchestra. For the 2019 album ¡Spangled!, Parks has teamed with an ideal collaborator, the Guatemalan-born vocalist Gaby Moreno, who can sing with thoughtful brio in both Spanish and English while tackling a broad range of styles. Together they've crafted an impressive affair comprised of songs from North, South, and Central America that celebrate the possibilities of the Americas, the cultural roadblocks on all sides of the border, and the way all parties involved see one another, from the sorrowful wisdom of "Across the Borderline" and the bold advocacy of the melting pot in "The Immigrants," to the misguided celebration of the stereotypes of Latin culture of "I'll Take a Tango." The album is no less ambitious when Moreno and Parks interpret a handful of classic songs, both old and new, devoted to themes of love and separation. Moreno can communicate grace, joy, sorrow, and apprehension with the skill of a gifted actress, and her voice is a marvel, smooth and rich but also nimble and able to work with anything it's presented. Parks' orchestrations match Moreno for expressive power, and if he makes these selections sound like the soundtrack to some big-budget movie steeped in Latin culture, the IMAX-scale grandeur generates all the color and drama anyone could ask for, and Moreno works beautifully with Parks and his musical vision, and never lets the listener forget there's a very real and beating heart in every one of these songs. ¡Spangled! is a splendid merger of two outstanding talents who complement one another better than anyone might expect.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming