Music

CD Shorts

Reviewed this week: Van Dyke Parks; The Olllam; and Paul Rocha

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Thursday, September 06, 2012

Van Dyke Parks
Arrangements, Vol. 1
(Bananastan)

Whether it's as lyricist for The Beach Boys' fabled Smile or string arranger for Joanna Newsom's acclaimed Ys, Van Dyke Parks is best known for his work with others. Despite a cult solo career, he's largely embraced the bygone role of arranger, enhancing the work of others while blending into the shadows. Released on his own label, Arrangements, Vol. 1 spans his earliest work and showcases a dizzying variety of styles and acts, including Donovan, Dino Martin, and Little Feat. Parks outfits garage rockers Mojo Men with bizarre stringed instruments, adds a swelling orchestra to an Arlo Guthrie gospel standard, and, most amazingly, tricks out Bonnie Raitt's calypso "Wah She Go Do." It's a shame there's not more info about these often obscure tracks, but they're unfailingly pleasurable and sequenced like an expert mix tape, a testament to the man behind the mixing board. —Jeff Jackson

*

The Olllam
The Olllam
(Compass)

Take two musicians with jazz degrees, a master of the Irish uilleann pipes, and a range of instrumental variety from all three, and you end up with the compelling sound of The Olllam. Jazz, rock and Irish tunes devoid of the traditional sounds of jig and reel fuse in a smooth musical amalgam. All the elements fit together so well that it comes as a surprise that this album was crafted across the Atlantic. The Internet allowed Detroit residents Tyler Duncan and Michael Shimmin to collaborate with Belfast, Ireland's John McSherry. McSherry, dubbed "a true master" of the uilleann pipes by Irish Music Magazine, also plays whistles. Duncan plays whistles, pipes, guitar and Rhodes. Shimmin plays drum kit and percussion. The melodies are not as complex as the aforementioned Irish jigs and reels, instead bringing tonal complexity from the combination of multiple instruments. The simplicity brings elegance and clarity. —Patrick Kelley

*

Paul Rocha
Crayons
(Crackback Flouse)

Just glancing at the band of Valley ringers on Paul Rocha's latest release (Matty Cullen, Brian Marchese, Sam Barnes and Danny Bernini), it's not hard to imagine how and why Crayons is such a vintage-sounding pop-rock gem. The hooks and melodies are top-notch, as are the instrumental parts, deftly arranged string parts, vocal harmonies and production, blending a George Martin Sgt. Pepper-era feel with some droning backwards tracks and latter-day voice effects. Rocha's songwriting is, generally speaking, solid power-pop, but also crams in tasty acid-folk and semitone sensibilities/sitar sounds that present a great exercise in incorporating more typically Eastern style into Western music. Rocha's lyrics stand out as the oddest jigger-pour in his creative cocktail, blending innocence and cynicism into anecdotes that are hard to peg either as true-life stories or pure psychedelic fiction. —Tom Sturm

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