Over the course of a career spanning more than half a century, Van Dyke Parks has collaborated with Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Ry Cooder, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, and Silverchair; penned the legendary SMiLE with Brian Wilson; re-teamed with Wilson for the subsequent concept albums Orange Crate Art (recently reissued by Omnivore Recordings) and That Lucky Old Sun; played the accordion on The Beach Boys’ chart-topping “Kokomo;” and even arranged Baloo the Bear’s famous ode to “The Bare Necessities” for Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book. As a solo artist, Parks followed up his genre-bending, boundary-breaking Song Cycle with some of pop’s most varied projects including the calypso celebration Discover America and Jump!, a reimagining of Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus stories. The composer-lyricist-multi-instrumentalist-arranger-orchestrator has continued his exploration of the varied corners of Americana with a vital new collaborative project due on June 11 from BMG/Modern Recordings in vinyl and digital formats.
Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America teams the musical iconoclast with singer-songwriter-harpist Verónica Valerio for a new, four-song EP. It merges the sensibilities of the Mississippi-born hero of California music with the Veracruz, Mexico native to create a miniature suite that very much reflects the times in which we’re living.
Valerio reached out to Parks to initiate the pairing. Valerio, who studied music in Veracruz and New York, reflects in the press release, “”Two years ago, I wrote Van Dyke because he is a sincere person, a selfless communicator, polite, a fighter and great artist.” Parks returns the compliments: “Her music got me out of the hall of mirrors of pop culture which is unavoidable as we turn on a radio or television. This was my exit…the record I wanted to do with this girl in quarantine! Never met her. But I have a longstanding love for Hispanic music — I think it’s the moment to be part of the ‘browning of America’: crossing the aisle, learning the lingo. It has idiomatic value, a supreme unimportance to the value of profit.” He continues, “We’re not talking about music that punches you in the face. It’s part of a discovery. We found America and it does not stop in El Paso or begin in Juarez. This is a shared vision of what America is all about. I’m trying to learn how to cross the aisles in my work and I’m exploring with the freedom that Verónica has allowed me.”
The EP was crafted during the COVID-19 pandemic with Parks and Valerio working apart with their hand-picked musicians. As the title indicates, Parks orchestrated all of the music; Valerio sings in Spanish. He explains, “We got this record done with a fabulous group of string players — all long-distance. In quarantine! In isolation! She would send me a voice and a harp. Or maybe voice, harp and percussionist or violinist. And I would surround that with a chamber orchestra — seven strings, five woodwinds, so forth. Amazing adventure for me.” Parks’ deft, intricate orchestrations are an inviting, ideal match for Valerio’s persuasive vocals: whether cinematic on the opening “Veracruz,” lightly contemporary on “Cielito Lindo,” beguiling on “The Flight of the Guacamaya,” or alternately urgent and delicate on “Camino a Casa.”
Klaus Voormann has provided the striking cover artwork for Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America. It’s due on June 11 from BMG/Modern Recordings and can be pre-ordered at the links below. “There’s something about ‘the browning of America’ that fascinates me,” says Parks. “And I want to see the rhythms become part of my language as they become a part of America’s revised pop culture.”
- Cielito Lindo
- The Flight of the Guacamaya
- Camino a Casa