Home Music Verónica Valerio/Van Dyke Parks: Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America

Verónica Valerio/Van Dyke Parks: Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America

It should be noted that Van Dyke Parks has never met Verónica Valerio, the woman with whom he recorded Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America. Every note of this four-song EP was recorded in quarantine, Valerio working from her home in Veracruz, Mexico and Parks from Los Angeles. The unusual collaboration between these two underappreciated yet massive talents, is a story in its own right.

Artist, producer and arranger Parks has had a career spanning over 50 years, working with everyone from Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Ry Cooder, Little Feat and Bonnie Raitt, not to mention legendary work with Brian Wilson. Yet he has also worked with The Chills, Rufus Wainwright, Vic Chesnutt, Inara George, Grizzly Bear and Joanna Newsome. This particular project was stirred by Valerio sending Parks an email. She had been drawn to his work by fellow harpist Joanna Newsom’s Ys LP: “Two years ago, I wrote Van Dyke because he is a sincere person, a selfless communicator, polite, a fighter and great artist.”

Parks picks up the story: “So when this girl asked me to assemble a record for her, I told her I didn’t know anybody in the industry, and I was totally passe, and no one would be interested in a codger rocker doing poems orchestrated from the Yucatan.” But Parks felt bad about leaving things that way, so he added, “But I’d love to hear some of your stuff.” So Valerio, a folk-music heroine and part of a musical dynasty (her grandfather built harps), sent Parks recordings of her and her harp, perhaps including a percussionist or a violinist. Parks would then build up an arrangement using a chamber orchestra, five woodwinds, seven strings, whatever the piece required. Creating that dynamic, what came to fruition is the four songs that make up Only in America.

Parks promises there is still more to come. But what’s here makes a great beginning. “Veracruz” sets off Valerio’s voice against strings as she sings of her home. Using her native Spanish throughout rather than tethering the words to particular voicings, the strings and woodwinds tend to serve the role of a balancing act. If Parks has a tendency toward the florid, it seems to be kept tightly under control, serving as a counter to Valerio.

Harp and strings work in tandem to provide a soft upper register balance before Valerio’s voice enters with a spoken word opening to “Cielito Lindo.” Her harp plays a major role on this track, fingers dancing along the strings. Valerio’s voice is always in the foreground, illustrating just how much Parks understands that his role is not to be overly showy, but rather to showcase his collaborator’s remarkable talents as a singer and harpist.

Valerio is well versed in son jarocho, a regional variant of the son mexicano style that’s a starting point for music has always tried to expand beyond the tradition. Working with Parks pushes her music farther forward, and he responds by creating contexts that seem to work wonders, while admitting to being a gringo who doesn’t understand the language. What he does understand are the feelings. His arrangement on “The Flight of the Guacamaya” adds a sense of lushness and sensuality that meets the demands of the song.

There seems to be more of a pop sensibility to “Camino a Casa.” Violins and harp play to their strengths, with a truly great violin solo only adding to this classy track. Both the song and the disc end far too quickly, but there is still the hope for more to come. A word must be added about the cover, drawn by Park’s good friend Klaus Voormann, probably best known for the illustrations on the cover of Revolver.

As Parks says, “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.” With Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America, the two have begun to create a highly enjoyable new language.

The veteran Los Angeles producer teams up with a young folk musician from Mexico to create a highly enjoyable new language.
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Cross Cultural Exchange
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