Orange Crate Art (review)

By David Beard 

On a moderately windy day, the dust kicks up with the crackling energy of a new dawn … this is the essence of imagery that is conjured when the title track of Orange Crate Art plays: a song cycle written, composed, and arranged by Van Dyke Parks. 

Originally released Oct. 24, 1995, Orange Crate Art is a motif of explorative music that sounds as sonically colorful today as it did upon its initial release.

Van Dyke – ever the Brian Wilson enthusiast – approached Brian to join him for a second musical trek. The first time the pair worked together was during the infamous 1966-’67 SMiLE sessions, which included “Cabin Essence,” “Vege-Tables” (on which Paul McCartney was recorded chomping celery), “Heroes And Villains,” and “Surf’s Up” (among others). I love the SMiLE era music and its explorative properties, so when you pair Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, I’m interested. Always.  

Throughout Orange Crate Art you can hear Brian’s vocal heart, and for the first time ever, the two-CD set offers a second disc comprised of the entire album strictly in its musical form … no vocals; the way Brian heard it before he recorded his parts. The textures and colors captured in the notes impart an invaluable glimpse into Van Dyke’s compositional process and audio canvass … the orange hue of the sun on the California hillside, the prairie on the outskirts of town, the quieting stillness and the sun dipping over the horizon … it’s all here.

As far as song content goes, Orange Crate Art offers imagery of rainstorms at a drive-in theater, apples, oranges, and a sense of time and place somewhere in the Napa Valley, and a Norman Rockwell-tinged view of America. As evoking as these moments are, the most important element of this album is it continued an old friendship.  

It would be cliché to call Orange Crate Art timeless music, but I’m admittedly at a loss to call it anything other than what it’s always been … ‘art for the ears.’ The music is just like the paintings that adorn the packaging … and they’re a vivid reminder of the ‘good ole days,’ a time often thought of when the heart yearns for the simpler times. Only Van Dyke Parks could create this music and adding Brian’s voice evokes just the right amount of Old West sentiment that brings a sense of tranquility to everything. 

The 25th-anniversary special edition of Orange Crate Art was released on Friday, June 19, 2020, on Omnivore Recordings.

Order Orange Crate Art HERE

Endless Summer Quarterly magazine is preparing our Fall 2020 edition that will feature a retrospective of the Wilson/Parks catalogue.

©2020 David M. Beard/All Rights Reserved 


Leave a comment

James Green

10 months ago

Great review David. One difference I’ve noticed with this versus VDP’s other works, is that there seems to be more guitar and less (relatively speaking) piano than usual. Perhaps that is a nod to Northern California and San Francisco. Or perhaps it is my overactive imagination.
Anyway, again excellent review.

John Tilden

10 months ago

Stephen King described his work as “Big Macs for the mind”. I really liked reading about OCA as “art for the ears”. A really good one to have the headphones on for. I’ve liked the original for a long time…looking forward to hearing this version, too.


10 months ago

Always loved this album

John Goldfein

10 months ago

Can’t wait to hear the “Stack-o-tracks” version!

Gina Marie

10 months ago

Not entering bc I won a couple months ago but wanted to say: I really enjoyed reading this review, the album is just as beautiful 25 years later, and I’m so thankful to have BW and VDP in the world and in music 🎶😍🎶 good luck y’all and thank you ESQ ❤️

Rami Saajoranta

10 months ago

Orange Crate Art has always been THE Brian Wilson album to me. Can’t wait to hear the background tracks – I guess I will play them on background fairly often next year while working 🤠👍

Michael Zonshine

10 months ago

This is a beautiful summary of the collaborative relationship of two masterful musicians. I’m particularly excited to revisit this music and to hear the unreleased material myself!

Jim Gray

10 months ago

I really look forward to hearing the instrumental version. VDP is one of my favorite arrangers and orchestrators, going all the way back to Song Cycle and earlier.

I wish he would put out the Suite he wrote for Brian’s Pet Sounds tour in 2000. It was played by a small orchestra before the shows, and not amplified, so it was hard to hear. It should be preserved for history.

Jamie Arnett

10 months ago

Loved this review and love the album! Has such a warmth about it and this reissue has come at a perfect time. Brian’s vocals are masterful and Van Dyke’s arrangements are as well. My 17 year old son who also loves Brian and The Beach Boys didn’t know about this album so it was fun to play him tracks as we were driving around.

Paul Harvey

10 months ago

I can’t wait to hear the new version of Orange Crate Art. It’s such an interesting album and def takes you on a journey. The instrumental only disc will be an interesting listen!

Mike Mcloughlin

10 months ago

Great if quirky album from the two masters! AlwYs been one of my faves since 95


10 months ago

I initially expected to be “Return to Smiles” when it first came out. It grew on me and eventually became a perfect album for my aging ears”

Don Frankel

10 months ago

A combination of my favorite lyricist and favorite harmonic genius. Two Godz unite 🎶

Allesandro Rotondi

10 months ago

Thanks for this review, David. Art for the ears, it is indeed. “Palm Tree and Moon” is arguably my favourite track. Looking forward to ESQ’s coverage on this seminal Van Dyke / Brian collaboration.

Jamie Hill

10 months ago

A fresh review that renewed and rekindled my desire to listen and absorb this LP as a masterpiece

Tom Maddox

10 months ago

Well if you want to mellow out this is the album to listen to, I always like Orange Craft art and Sail Away but I like San Francisco the most, to me this album leaves off The Smile Sessions. Again David keep up the great work! SURF’S UP!! Tom Maddox

Max Rodriguez

10 months ago

I love Brian Wilson’s music and Van Dyke Park’s lyrics. Together they make magic.

Tracy Robison

10 months ago

This album came during that period of transition following Dr. Landy’s dismissal. It was great to have Brian collaborating with an old friend, away from the Beach Boys, with themes familiar to anyone who knows the songs he wrote with VDP. Sweet Insanity never materialized (officially) but we got the proof we needed in the vocals he contributed to Orange Crate Art. Brian was back and over the 25 years that followed, he exceeded our expectations in ways we could have never imagined.

Frank Abe

10 months ago

The arrangements and lyrics of Orange Crate Art conjure flashes of images in our minds, as this review captures so well. I’ve become entranced by these tracks ever since this remaster was announced. I think it must be the passage of time. In 1995 I may have underrated it because of what it was not, that it was Brian and Van Dyke together but it was not SMiLE … Twenty-five years later, I listen to these tracks now and hear it for what it is, a set of complex pieces of music that literally shimmer in the beauty of their complexity. I am hearing the sheer joy in “Sail Away,” the lilt of the steel drums that bring back “Summer in Monterey,” Brian’s vocal attack on “San Francisco.” And now I can feel the exuberance of “Wings of a Dove,” a song borne from the leaking roof of his home that dynamically climbs up and soars away. While locked down at home and unable to make to the curbside pickup at the local record store, I’ve listened in advance on Spotify to the backing tracks and am just so pleased to hear the underlying dynamics and arrangements that drive these songs, like the hidden flutes underneath “Dove.” Looking forward to getting the physical media soon to read what I’ve heard are some great liner notes from Van Dyke. Thanks for the review!

Michel Musto

10 months ago

I’ve always loved this CD. It seems to be made by 2 old friends who seem happy gettin’ back together and make music they love (Americana smile thing is coming back here:!). I really love “San Francisco”! I listen to this CD very often! good job, and a great surprise at the time it was released!


10 months ago

Another excellent article!

Michael Grant

10 months ago

Accurate review. Always loved the album and the artwork.

Visit our store to purchase any of our available issues.