Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks
Orange Crate Art (Omnivore Recordings)
Is there a more criminally underrated songwriting partnership in rock & roll’s illustrious history than that of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks? It seems like everything the pair work on is destined to be ignored for a while and then discovered decades later.
Take Smile, the Beach Boys album that was intended to be the stellar followup to the near flawless Pet Sounds. It was the 1967 Smile sessions that gifted the world the groundbreaking “Good Vibrations” song, although Mike Love wrote the lyrics for that one. But elsewhere, Parks was all over Smile due to Wilson’s appreciation for his writing. But as we know, Smile was never finished. A collection of the songs was later released as The Smile Sessions, winning a 2011 Grammy for “Best Historical Album.”
Fast-forward nearly 30 years and the pair reunited to record this very album, which has been re-released to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Back in 1995, Orange Crate Art was finished and released in it’s full and intended splendor. But still, not nearly enough people are aware of the album’s existence. Hardcore Beach Boys, Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks fans maybe, but not enough general music fans.
“It was fun to be in the studio, it was really nice,” says Wilson on the liner notes in this reissue. “Van Dyke is probably my favorite music maker. He’s a very good arranger. We have a great vibe, we can work really closely together. He’s really my favorite musician. He’s got a great melodic sensibility, he writes pretty tunes and I like singing them.”
Yeah, when Brian Wilson says that you’re his favorite musician, that’s the highest of praise. There’s a genuine, unrestrained joy about the songs that the pair write together. Parks seems to pull the sweetness out of Wilson — early Beach Boys innocence. That a song like “Movies is Magic” was written in the ’90s and not the early days of rock & roll, pre-rock even, is astonishing.
It’s a beautiful piece of work that highlights everything great about both artists. The soft landscape cover art illustrates the manner with which the whole body of work is an immersive experience. A song such as “My Hobo Heart,” with it’s lullaby harmonies, sweeps you up, which “San Francisco” offers a slightly harder edge. But only slightly. This is an album which massages your mind — pretty and lush, and not at all vacuous.
The bonus tracks include a lovely take on “What a Wonderful World,” while there’s a whole second disc of previously unissued instrumental versions. The reissue has been lovingly put together, and hopefully it’ll help a lot more people get hip to this gem.