Van Dyke Parks will bring a quintet with him for two shows at McCabe's… (Bella Union Records )
Pop music renaissance man Van Dyke Parks, fresh off an enthusiastically reviewed trip to Australia, has returned to his longtime home in Southern California and will play two shows on Saturday, March 30, at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. He’s sharing the bill with an equally iconoclastic musician, New Orleans pianist Tom McDermott.
Parks, the 70-year-old composer, arranger, orchestrator, pianist, accordionist and singer who was born in Hattiesburg, Miss., and spent a chunk of his youth in Lake Charles, La., struck up a friendship with McDermott over their shared love of the music of 19th century composer Louis Gottschalk, a forebear of ragtime composer-performer Scott Joplin.
“I love Tom dearly,” Parks tells Pop & Hiss, “although we've never actually met. I feel such closure being able to endorse and celebrate a peer instrumentalist who has such superior gifts. Stuff like that just ain't done enough, in this town full of trophies, imposed competition, and yes, heroes and villains…..He's my favorite of his time and place, and I've seen to it that he'll have an album out soon, called ‘Bamboola.’ ”
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McDermott, who reflects and expands on the New Orleans piano tradition of such players as James Booker, Professor Longhair and Dr. John, will release his album this summer as a cooperative venture between Parks’ Bananastan Records and Parks associate Mike Minky’s Minky Records.
Parks has a new album of his own coming May 6 on Bella Union Records, “Songs Cycled,” a play on the title of his cult-classic 1968 debut album, “Song Cycle.” It combines three vintage Parks recordings with reworkings of other material, including a song from “Orange Crate Art,” his 1995 collaboration with Brian Wilson, for whom he wrote most of the lyrics for the Beach Boys’ “Smile” album.
“This album is released on Bella Union 45 years from my debut album, ‘Song Cycle’ (when I was but 24),” Parks wrote in a statement announcing the album’s release. “In both cases, there’s a maverick on the loose, with a highly personal set of tunes and instrumentals. All of them reveal an iconoclast tilting at windmills, railing at tyrants, barking at masters of war, and celebrating a shameless commitment to the very definition of ‘Americana’.”
The track “Hold Back Time” can be streamed here:
Parks played earlier this month in Australia for the Adelaide Festival, where he was joined by younger generation pop stars Kimbra and Silverchair’s Daniel Johns. (“They staved off any questions about shelf life,” he noted from the road. “Oh lucky man!”)
“It was the sort of gig people will speak of for years to come,” a critic wrote for the AdelaideNow.com website. “It was one of those musical moments where the stars aligned perfectly onstage in a constellation which may never be seen again.”
At McCabe’s, he’ll be leading a quintet consisting of harpist Amy Shulman, cellist Cameron Stone, bassist Dave Stone and percussionist Don Heffington, who also recently accompanied him at a benefit concert at and for the South Pasadena Library on the 125th anniversary of its opening. Guests Joe Henry and Inara George dropped in at that performance for an audience that included no less than Bonnie Raitt (“I have one night off from touring,” she said on her way out of the library, “and look where I’m spending it.”)
Asked what he has in mind for the McCabe’s shows, Parks responded: “The set? Unapologetically retro. What will the audiences expect? That I'll repeat myself as always. Yet, tackling the keyboard with the athleticism of my youth. I marvel!
“Each day,” he said, “the hand is farther from the hand. The hazard in doing this publicly is in the art of making it seem effortless. It should only look easy.”
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