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Arrangements Volume 1

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Audio CD, October 4, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

'Here's Volume One, dating from my earliest studio adventures in the '60s. Come To The Sunshine was the first such arrangement. It was written about my dad and his band 'The White Swan Serenaders' (who played at the White Swan Hotel in Punxsutawny, PA.) This single on MGM gave me my first real adventure at the dawn of multitrack recording (although it was done in just 3 takes). Throughout, you'll hear what I learned about arranging. Bear in mind I went on to scratch out my own hard-scrabble life as an underpaid arranger, yet able to propel three offspring through their collegiate careers. They learned enough to avoid my occupational mistakes, pursuing other careers. Volume Two will be a different matter, with an exponential craft improvement on my part. Still, this must be my confession, as a review of my past work may offer great instruction to others who move the recorded arts beyond my wildest dreams. Clearly, my best work lies ahead''. - Van Dyke Parks Pasadena, CA, March '11.


His arranging work has put an inimitable stamp on American pop, though the vast majority of music fans have no idea when they are listening to his work. He is the quintessential liner-notes hero, in other words, which makes the overview of Arrangements, Vol. 1 that much more gratifying.

The compilation is curated by Parks himself, drawing on what he calls ''my earliest studio adventures in the 60s.'' The roster represented here is dizzying - Little Feat, Arlo Guthrie, Sal Valentino, Bonnie Raitt singing calypso - and hearing Parks' unifying hand presiding over this collision of styles makes for a wonderful way to experience the art of his arrangements; their lushness, their invention, how they provide the texture and teeth to a composition. He opens with an arrangement ripped off the bones of the song it was meant to accompany: a mono single mix of Donovan's Donovan's Colours. It's a gently instructive focusing tool for the rest of the album, training our ears to go to the margins, to pay attention to the filigree.

Not that Parks' arrangements need much prompting to be noticed. They don't exactly fade demurely into the background; they jostle and blurt, intruding brazenly into the songs they support. His arrangement for Sal Valentino's goofy zydeco number Alligator Man boasts not one vigorously sawing fiddle, but two - on top of twinkling mandolins, a seasick tuba groaning low notes, snatches of saloon piano, and a piping saxophone. It sounds horrendously overcrowded on paper, but Parks has an uncanny instinct for how to densely populate a composition's every corner without choking it. The instruments are spaced evenly in the mix, and the result feels like a bustling table of gregarious friends instead of a crazy-making riot.

All of these embellishments, of course, were obsessively layered and re-layered onto increasingly overworked analog tape, and Arrangements, which kicks off with the sound of a rickety reel-to-reel firing up, is also partly a tale told by that tape. Parks' arrangements come through intriguingly warped, and the wobbly, dazed sound world that results, however accidental, is crucial to the record's appeal. The sumptuous string orchestra Parks supplies to Arlo Guthrie's take on the Appalachian standard Valley to Pray, sounds gelatinous, a symphony viewed through a fish-bowl. The Mojo Men's Sit Down I Think I Love You would be a standard-issue mod-pop song in a simpler context, but Parks' arrangement sends the song stumbling through a haze of slide guitar and bandoneón that feels like linoleum curling in real time. It's nearly impossible to pick out every individual instrument from the soup on these songs (is that a harp? a celesta? a zither?), but the sound world is wonderfully dense and liquid, and it fills headphones like sunlight flooding a window.

The songs selected on Arrangements are uniformly fantastic. Bonnie Raitt's cover of Calypso Rose's racy Wah She Go Do is hilarious and startling, and Jimmy Cliff's Sitting in Limbo gets an improbably gorgeous reading by Dean Martin's son Dino. But trying to imagine them without Parks' additions, as the compilation encourages you to, is illuminating. Pop-song arrangements tend to hide in plain sight, and are usually practiced by spotlight-averse eccentrics who fit comfortably into neither the classical or the pop worlds. But the pop universe would be drained of color without them - try to hear the Delfonics' La-La (Means I Love You) without its nimbus of strings, or, for that matter, the Beach BoysSurf's Up without the distant horns and chimes. Arrangements is a joy to spend time with, but it also amounts to a pretty forceful argument for the lost art of arrangement itself, and for Parks as one of its unrivaled masters. --Jayson Greene, Pitchfork, 9/22/11

1. Donovan's Colours (mono) - George Washington Brown
2. Come to the Sunshine - Van Dyke Parks
3. The Eagle And Me - Van Dyke Parks
4. Friends and Lovers - Sal Valentino
5. Alligator Man - Sal Valentino
6. Farther Along - Van Dyke Parks
7. Valley to Pray - Arlo Guthrie
8. Out On The Rolling Sea When Jesus Speak To Me - Van Dyke Parks
9. Sittin' Here in Limbo - Dino Martin
10. Wha She Go Do - Bonnie Raitt
11. Sit Down I Think I Love You - The Mojo Men
12. One Meat Ball - Ry Cooder
13. Cheek To Cheek - Lowell George
14. Spanish Moon - Little Feat
15. Moog Music ('67) - Van Dyke Parks

Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 4, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Bananastan LLC.
  • ASIN: B0059889OW
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,664 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By bgandl on September 8, 2012
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Van Dyke Parks should just be given the MacArthur Genius Grant and then, let the man create. Everything he touches becomes...well, at least more interesting. Sometimes sublime. Listen to "Come to the Sunshine" and try not to smile. Such a joyful heart. I love what he does and who he is in this world.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steve M on January 14, 2013
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I have been a fan of Van Dyke Parks since the 60s and I still am. This adds to my collection.
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