REVIEW: Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks – Orange Crate Art – 25th Anniversary 2-CD Reissue is Fresh, Original, Sunny


Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks – Orange Crate Art – 25th Anniversary 2-CD Reissue

With the release of Brian Wilson’s 1st solo LP Orange Crate Art, in 1995 with Mississippi-born Van Dyke Parks it was instantly noticeable the “voice” of The Beach Boys was Brian Wilson.

I listened to solo work by Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson & Mike Love but none had a signature Beach Boy sound like Brian Wilson. It’s hinted but none had the magic. Jan & Dean sounded more like The Beach Boys. Personally, I always thought Jan Berry should’ve been their lead singer since his voice was so recognizable for fun, girls on beaches & hot rods.

Omnivore gives us June 19th the 2-CD 25th Anniversary reissue of Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks – Orange Crate Art. The majority of these somewhat eccentric tunes may not appeal as previous more commercially viable songs by the Beach Boys but – despite a dense lyrical approach & Van Dyke Parks’ orchestral thickness, each possesses a touch of sandbox, beach & bikini musical spirit. However, you won’t find a masterpiece like “Good Vibrations,” or “Heroes & Villains.”

Brian & Parks’ string together fresh, original, sunny & somewhat memorable songs. It won’t shake anyone up like “Smile” was expected to or “Pet Sounds” did. The Beach Boys as a group are masterful but — Brian doesn’t seem to need them. The full sound & attractiveness is all here.

Too many musicians to list & the talent is impressive. Some names: Richard Greene (violin – who played with Seatrain). Little Feat’s Fred Tackett (guitars/mandolins). Lee Sklar (studio bassist), backup singer Danny Hutton (Three Dog Night), & actress Carmen Twillie (backup singer).

Van Dyke Parks who can be exceptional word-wise adds his artistic touch but some border on cliché. Maybe Van tried to distance himself from being too metaphor heavy. It’s the reason the other Beach Boys were initially reluctant to sing some of his material. Mike Love especially.

Parks wrote lines like “a diamond necklace played the pawn,” “dove nested towers the hour was/ strike the street quicksilver moon…” Sounded more like words from King Crimson’s Pete Sinfield.

But Parks brought imagination to Wilson’s music…sometimes. A composer can be motivated by what’s being sung lyrically. This LP celebrates California. Not the Eagles, Jackson Browne California. The Beach Boys one.

“Summer in Monterey,” has a warm harmonica, a wall of Beach Boys-like vocals & carnival sounds. “San Francisco,” has clever vocalizing, arrangement & ambitious lyrics. Hard to believe no Beach Boy sang here. Even “My Jeanine,” is closer to a vintage Beach Boys sound sprinkled with a tad psychedelic MOR. I liked this. I understand why the other Boys would shake their heads.

Going all retro MOR Brian sings “Movies Is Magic,” – nothing special. The Beach Boys used to see-saw in quality. The blasé “Johnny Carson,” & brilliance like “Sail on Sailor.” You have to shuffle tunes through a screen to separate the potential classics from the pablum. Not all are catchy & memorable. They’ve been labored over too much. (LP = 3 years to record). However, the sound is exceptional, the effort genuine. Some instrumentals like “Lullaby,” (a George Gershwin tune) comes off with the melodic soundtrack weight of Randy Newman. None sound like a Beach Boy-day at the beach now.

It’s apparent Wilson tried to apply Beach-Boy musical sensibility to songs light-years from their style. “Rhapsody in Blue?” “Love Is Here to Stay?” Good for die-hards; the arrangement’s great & the vocals – marvelous. But traditionalists will wonder why?

Cover Robin Ward’s “Wonderful Summer,” or Jan & Dean’s beautiful “A Surfer’s Dream.” But Gershwin? “What a Wonderful World,” is a misstep. Brian doesn’t have the proper vocal range.

The original LP: Produced & arranged: Van Dyke Parks with Lenny Waronker. Reissue produced: Brad Rosenberger. Packaged handsomely. CD #1 (15 cuts) & CD #2 (11 instrumentals of CD 1). CD 2 has some solid instrumental performances, especially “San Francisco.” Wow.

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3 thoughts on “REVIEW: Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks – Orange Crate Art – 25th Anniversary 2-CD Reissue is Fresh, Original, Sunny

  1. Bought this album on the day it came out. I remember being disappointed that Brian did not contribute to writing any of the songs. But then I listened, and it was wonderful. Wilson doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a singer.

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