Van Dyke Parks

July 01, 2021


A true musical pandemic partnership.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — In a North American musical summit, two musicians have collaborated to produce an extraordinary EP of four songs. Verónica Valerio is a singer, songwriter and harpist born in Veracruz ,Mexico, while Los Angeles-resident Van Dyke Parks is a sui generis musical polymath. One is young, one is not. One sings in Spanish, the other communicates in English. One plays the harp, while the other “plays” an orchestra in his role as arranger. They’ve come together with mutual respect and shared belief in the towering power of music to transcend the stifling gag of borders.

Their collaboration, Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America, is due out on BMG/Modern Recordings on June 11, 2021. The EP will also be available as a 10" vinyl and Digital release. Klaus Voormann designed the cover art.

Parks (or VDP, as he’s oft called) has led a storybook life, with childhood appearances from Albert Einstein and Aaron Copland, the latter with whom he studied music. As a solo artist he’s made a dozen albums; 1967’s Song Cycle debut set a template for his work, featuring gloriously melodic compositions, idiosyncratic song structure and literate lyrics, all surrounded by production others heard only in their dreams. His orchestral arrangements, with swirling strings that dare to soar aloft, established his singularity. 

VDP collaborated with Brian Wilson on the Beach Boys’ “lost” masterpiece SMiLE, contributing lyrics for several songs from that release including the classic “Heroes and Villains.” (Three decades later they reunited for Orange Crate Art.) An arranger, he worked with Harry Nilsson, Little Feat, Ry Cooder and later Inara George, Silverchair and Joanna Newsom. He has scored and acted in numerous film and TV projects, and is an acclaimed public conversationalist. 

Valerio studied music in Veracruz and New York and has been a guest lecturer on folk vocal music at Berklee in Boston. Blessed with a siren’s pipes and accompanied by her harp, she’s performed her songs in Mexico, the U.S., Asia and Europe. She’s steeped in the son jarocho musical style that blends Spanish and other influences, and yet, says Mexican music expert Mary Farquharson, “She is very creative, strong in her decision to break away from the son jarocho world when she was very young.” This yearning to expand led her to VDP. “Two years ago, I wrote Van Dyke because he is a sincere person, a selfless communicator, polite, a fighter and great artist,” explains Veronica. They worked together during the plague — hence at a distance — for a full year, the four songs on Only in America a mere taste of their fruits. 

Mirroring VDP’s airborne orchestrations, Valerio sings often of birds and flight and sky. The two musicians are free spirits who broke standard operating procedure in this creation, both reaching for that sky — attaining lift-off and beyond. Van Dyke explains some of their motivation and process:

[On working with Verónica] “Her music got me out of the hall of mirrors of pop culture which is unavoidable as we turn on a radio or television. This was my exit … the record I wanted to do with this girl in quarantine! Never met her. But I have a longstanding love for Hispanic music — I think it’s the moment to be part of the ‘browning of America’: crossing the aisle, learning the lingo. It has idiomatic value, a supreme unimportance to the value of profit.

“We’re not talking about music that punches you in the face. It’s part of a discovery. We found America and it does not stop in El Paso or begin in Juarez. This is a shared vision of what America is all about. I’m trying to learn how to cross the aisles in my work and I’m exploring with the freedom that Verónica has allowed me.

[On the album’s Spanish lyrics] “Music is the absolute real currency in any transaction that is called communication. Music is it. It has the ability to convince. I don’t understand what they’re saying, but I know I agree with them!

[On the recording] “We got this record done with a fabulous group of string players — all long-distance. In quarantine! In isolation! She would send me a voice and a harp. Or maybe voice, harp and percussionist or violinist. And I would surround that with a chamber orchestra — seven strings, five woodwinds, so forth. Amazing adventure for me.

“There’s something about ‘the browning of America’ that fascinates me. And I want to see the rhythms become part of my language as they become a part of America’s revised pop culture.”

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