Album review: Van Dyke Parks, Songs Cycled (Bella Union)


Van Dyke Parks deals in Americana of a different vintage to most musicians. In some ways, he's closer to Charles Ives than Hank Williams or Robert Johnson, his work redolent of an earlier, smalltown America, but viewed through a distorting mirror.

We get Saint-Saëns on steel pans; a 1960s country song (“Sassafras”) given an antique arrangement of accordion, woodwind and strings, like a cotillion at the magnificent Ambersons'; and, in “Wall Street”, a protest song that suffocates with verbal petals (“There is just nothing but ash in the air, confetti all coloured with blood”). Behind the rococo charm lurks a subtle emotional power: the old hymn “The Parting Hand” is enough to make you want to raise a barn.

Download: Sassafras; The Parting Hand; Wall Street