Orange Crate Art (4/03/98)
Van Dyke Parks, Moonlighting (Warner Bros. 1998) - Moonlighting is the first-ever live release from Van Dyke Parks, the acclaimed songwriter, producer, and musicologist. Recorded in Santa Monica at the recently-shuttered Ash Grove, the 13 tracks on Moonlighting cover the spectrum of Van Dyke's recording career.
Van Dyke Parks has been recording albums for 30 years, beginning with his 1968 debut, Song Cycle. While his vocal delivery is thin at times, his songwriting and arrangements are engaging. Parks comes across as a piano bar performer, with shades of Randy Newman's wit and Al Stewart's historical storytelling.
The album includes "FDR in Trinidad" (from his 1972 release, Discover America), "Cowboy," a tribute to the Hawaiian cowpoke taken from his 1989 release, Tokyo Rose, and "Delta Queen Waltz," penned by John Hartford (one of the folk movement's founding fathers).
Says Parks, "For me, playing live is, first and foremost, a chance to find the time and place for musicians to come together and enjoy themselves. It's always fun to go up in the attic and pull old material out of the trunk." On Moonlighting, Parks is backed by a string combo led by concertmaster Sid Page.
The highlight of the album is "Orange Crate Art," taken from his 1995 collaboration with Brian Wilson. While the studio version missed the mark, Parks' live rendition shows the song to be a sweet and understated number.
Long a cult figure, Van Dyke Parks won't cross over to the mainstream with Moonlighting. But fans of good music will enjoy this release.
E. C. Scott, Hard Act to Follow (Blind Pig Records 1998) - Veteran singer E. C. Scott delivers her sophomore release with Hard Act to Follow. Having spent years honing her skills as a blues and R&B singer, the Bay Area singer has a smooth and graceful delivery, built around her strong backing band, Smoke.
E. C. grew up in Oakland, California, where she spent her time singing in the St. John Missionary Baptist Church. Early influences included gospel singers Shirley Caesar and Inez Andrews. Says Scott, "I thought their world was fascinating, and I wanted to be part of it."
However, Scott's ambitions for a singing career were put on hold when she decided to marry and raise her family. When her children were 8 and 10, E. C. decided to resume her career. "I just sat them down and told them, 'Look, this is something I was doing before you met me and I'd like to start singing again.' They thought it was a great idea and told me to go for it."
The follow-up to her debut release, Come Get Your Love, the new album showcases Scott's strong vocal talents and her songwriting ability. Thus, tracks like "Queen Size Bed" and "If You're a Good Woman" are soulful numbers that highlight Scott's sexy delivery. Scott adds, "I want my music to have that old R&B flavor, but with a new sound." The album closes strongly with a cover of the Eurythmic's "Missionary Man," in which Scott delivers a get-down performance.
If you're look for smart, sassy blues and R&B, try Hard Act to Follow.
Din Pedals, Din Pedals (Epic 1998) - The Din Pedals are a Los Angeles-based quartet that tap into the Oasis/British guitar rock sound, with a spacey recording and compressed guitar distortion. Which is to say, it sounds like rock 'n roll.
Din Pedals consists of James Grundler on lead vocals, Harrison on lead guitar, Ben Dejong on bass, and Alex Wong on drums. Grundler was originally the band's drummer, but now notes that "It took us three years to figure out that James, who had been playing drums since the third grade, should be our front man and rhythm guitarist. The idea that we had melodically, no one could sing that better than he could, even while he was playing drums."
In addition to Din Pedals, the band has also put out two indie releases - an eight song EP called Candide (1984), and Plastic & Chrome, a full-length CD released in 1996. The new album was produced by Stephen Stewart Short (whose credits include extensive stage and studio work with Queen and Genesis).
The new album features 11 tracks, including "Emotional Drugs," "Porn Star," and "Naked is Foreign." Obviously, the band's interests include disaffection and alienation - classic themes of rock.
If you've been digging Oasis or Radiohead, then Din Pedals will give you a welcome shot of British guitar rock.
- Randy Krbechek © 1998
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