Both as an artist and for his tragic life story, Vincent van Gogh has long fascinated other artists, particularly singer/songwriters; Joni Mitchell once even copied a Van Gogh self-portrait, replacing the painter's facial features with her own, and put it on the cover of one of her albums. Dutch musician van Eck takes this interest to its logical conclusion on Van Gogh by Van Eck, devoting an album to his fellow countryman and housing it in a CD-sized hardcover book in which Van Gogh paintings are reproduced in miniature on thick, glossy pages. The idea is that each of the 12 songs, with music by Van Eck and lyrics (in English) by Pamela Phillips Oland and Tom Harriman, refers to a specific Van Gogh painting, and the words are inspired by the painting or some aspect of Van Gogh's life, or both. Van Eck's music is in an adult contemporary cop/contemporary jazz style, sometimes suggesting '70s Steely Dan (such as on "One of the Family," inspired by Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters), sometimes leaning toward classic and progressive rock. He sings in a smooth croon, making perfect music for smooth sazz radio. What this has to do with Van Gogh and his paintings is sometimes unclear, although the lyrics often are intended to be in the voice of the painter, speculating about his troubled feelings. The painting A Pair of Shoes inspires a set of clichéd platitudes in a song called "One Foot in front of the Other," but "Obsession," inspired by Van Gogh's Sunflowers, is painfully specific in voicing the artist's reasons for his notorious self-mutilation: "What's one more cut to my ear," asks Van Eck, referring to fellow painter Gauguin, "So I don't have to hear him say/He's turned away." At such moments, the pop style of the music seems to run counter to the harsh realities of a painter's tortured life.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann