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.
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