The two legends merge their music onVan Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America
“We’re not talking about music that punches you in the face,” says the legendary Van Dyke Parks about his new collaboration with singer-songwriter-harpist Verónica Valerio from Veracruz. “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.”
Their collaboration, Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America, is due out on June 11, 2021. Van Dyke’s friend, the legendary bassist Klaus Voormann, designed the cover art. Voormann, as my fellow Beatles lovers already know, also designed the cover of their album Revolver.
Van Dyke is a musical genius. His orchestrations are legendary, and his own original songs through the decades possess a beauty and charm rarely found in modern times. During the 80s, when it seemed as if bombast and spectacle might replace the serious artistry of great songwriting, he was there to provide hope. His albums Jump and Tokyo Rose provided so much of what we loved that they compensated in a big way for what we were missing.
Then in 1995 came a new collaboration with Brian Wilson, Orange Crate Art. Their reunion was a reason to rejoice in itself, separate from the music. But the songs Van Dyke wrote for his old friend to sing were simply glorious, celebrating with lyrics and music the poignant, early spirit of California. Now decades later, it stands as one of the greatest albums of all times. (And I am not alone in this opinion, Brian Wilson told me he agrees. And said so with so much love and reverence for his old friend: “Only Van Dyke Parks could have done that, “Brian said. “[Orange Crate Art] is a great, great album.”)
He’s one of those guys who always does exceptional work – whether it’s with Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Little Feat, Inara George, or Louise Goffin (check out Van Dyke’s orchestration for her wonderful song “Chinatown”). His genius is for music itself, but also for bringing that to a collaboration with other artists, which takes a singular generosity of creative spirit to do that and yet maintain this level of artistry.
Which brings us to now, and this collaboration with Verónica. Though the lyrics are in Spanish, the music and sentiment are universal. The way he merges his musical soul with her songs is extraordinary.
““[Verónica’s] music,” he said, “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.”
Verónica, like Van Dyke, has blended both traditional and new music in her songs. From Veracruz to New York to Asia, she’s brought the beauty of the son jarocho music on which she was raised into these modern times. Forever hungry to expand the scope of her music, she fearlessly went after a dream, to collaborate with Van Dyke Parks. And though they have never yet met in person – this music was made in quarantine time, from a great physical distance – it’s a dream which has come true.
“Two years ago,” she said, “I wrote Van Dyke because he is a sincere person, a selfless communicator, polite, a fighter and great artist.”
He said yes. For a full year they have worked together. The four songs on Only in America is just the start. There’s more to come.
“We got this record done with a fabulous group of string players,” he said. “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,” he said. “And I want to see the rhythms become part of my language as they become a part of America’s revised pop culture.”