Newly reissued on Omnivore, Van Dyke Parks and Brian Wilson’s Orange Crate Art, originally released in 1995, evaluates the evolution of California, not so much through a microscope as through lens of a projector, a shower of visions glorifying a bygone era. The collaboration came from seasoned, idiosyncratic veterans. Parks and Wilson have one of those histories that leave one scratching their head. They first joined forces in 1967 to record Smile, their “teen-age symphony to God.” Left unreleased until 2011, this combination of Wilson’s music with lyrics by Parks has finally been recognized as a pop landmark. Reuniting in 1972, the result was a single song, “Sail On Sailor,” another timeless wonder. And then … nothing. Between sand boxes, sandwiches and mind control, the Brian Wilson of 1994 was finally emerging from years under the thumb of disgraced Dr. Eugene Landy.

Parks’ vision, a peon to a California forty years in the past, needed someone to give voice to his dreams. That voice was Brian Wilson. Yet there was some question to whether Wilson was up to the task of singing and creating the vocal arrangements necessary. Standing in front of the microphone in the recording studio the first words out of Brian’s mouth were, “Wait a minute, what am I doing here?” To which Parks replied, “You’re here because I can’t stand the sound of my own voice.” Which led Brian to respond, “Oh, okay then.”

Serving as writer, arranger and lyricist, Parks charts the rise of California in much the same way he has in dealing with everything from his visions of the American Dream, (Discover America – 1972), the tales of Uncle Remus (Jump – 1984), even World War II, (Tokyo Rose – 1989). Contextually, Parks tries to find the musical stamp of the era, recreating it as faithfully as he can. Which is why no two of his albums are the same, yet they all bear a distinctive Parksian stamp.

On Orange Crate Art, Parks is the tour guide, while Wilson serves merely as the mouthpiece. Even in the relatively befuddled state he was in at the time, his voice brings Parks’ California reveries to life. He harkens back to a time of innocence, as Parks suggests: “It pretends to be somnambulistic, but it really is an urging to think about California on those terms of lost love, of things that are disappearing, and the potential of the human spirit.”

Parks’ California is one that no longer exists, in many cases replaced by the same cookie cutter corporate culture that has replaced the American dream, leaving in its wake urban sprawl and twisted dreams. From the California of the orange crates, Wilson brings life to the vision of, “Home for two with a view of Sonoma, where there’s aroma and heart, memories of her orange crate art.” Backed by guitar, strings and a full orchestra, this is a land of dreams awaiting fulfillment.

Besides getting a remixed version of this classic achievement, the two-disc version offers Parks-Wilson takes on “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Love is Here To Stay” and “What A Wonderful World.” The real discovery is on the second CD, where Parks’ musical vision is presented without vocal accompaniment. Without a lyrical foil, swirls of arpeggios and intricate dances between horns and strings come to life in an even grander manner.

From a viewpoint 25 years down the road, that land of Orange Crate Art is receding even further into the past, more ancient history in a world the pace of time increases at ever-faster pace. The album offers the opportunity to slow the pace and appreciate a world of dreams and a vision of America where orange was still a color everyone was able to appreciate.

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