‘Super Chief: Music For The Silver Screen’ is an ‘orchestral fantasy’ inspired by a rail journey Van Dyke embarked upon across the United States in 1955.
In Van Dyke Parks’ own words:
“I’ve made an orchestral fantasy illustrating my first trip across the USA by rail, in 1955. This Suite is drawn from over a score of years, and as many films, now re-recorded from my archives as a film-music composer.
In editing, I was surprised to discover my penchant for folk themes, reframed in orchestral settings. (There are countless quotes from the 19th century ‘The American Century’).
The lingo of such traditional American music reveals my obsession, however unconscious, for rustic old saws that can still cut the wood. Yep, it’s Americana. All made in the great 48.
Celtic examples abound: ‘The Water Is Wide’, ‘Old Joe Clark’, ‘The Forked Deer’, ‘Saint Anne’s Reel’, ‘I Ride An Old Paint’, etc. With these references, a dash of low- church hymns (‘Goin’ Home’) and an occasional Aboriginal motif, all embedded in this novel and singular Ode to that passing American scene... so long ago, yet about a handshake away.
It can come in handy as a backdrop to a romantic interlude in candle-lit dinner conversation over a fine linen-count. (I’ve tried this at home.) Perhaps for a head-set in a subway tunnel, or as a car-tune in a smooth segue from the surrounding road-rage on a daily commute.”
7/10 Clinton Staff review, 27 February 2014
“Sort of like music your grandma would have listened to” was the description of Van Dyke Parks solo work that was put to me when I started to investigate him following hearing his work on The Beach Boys ‘Smile’. Yet the expansive Americana of ‘Discover America’ was of lots of interest to me despite it containing styles of music I would never have normally listened to. Parks veers between flowery late 60’s pop/psych to calypso to Disney-ish soundtrack work to dust laden bursts of Gershwin-esque orchestral Americana.
This is a reissue of a ‘soundtrack based on a train journey Parks took in 1955’ and as a result at times has all the sickeningly- sweet string laden schmaltz of the soundtrack to a Tom and Jerry cartoon dissected by bursts of tremendous melody. Tracks like ‘The Old Joe Clark’ burst with all the invention and old timey tunefulness of his best work on ‘Smile’ but Parks never stays still for long and the track veers off somewhere else before you know it. ‘Into the Gloaming’ and ‘Forgotten Not Gone’ hint at ‘Cabinessence’ like atmospheres with banjo’s plucking merrily and there are moments of true musical beauty with some delicious chord changes.
This more soundtrack-based work doesn’t interest me as much as his vocal endeavours, the sound of his thin voice tends to ground his more whimsical musical ideas which here are given to flying off into all directions. A true maverick and preposterously talented, Parks music won’t appeal to everyone, there are several moments here where I rush to my feet shouting ‘THIS MAN IS BRILLIANT’ and others I despair at him but for fans of meticulously arranged orchestral soundtrack work then there will be plenty to enjoy.
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- The Super Chief: Music For The Silver Screen by Van Dyke Parks
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