Twenty five years ago BRIAN WILSON and VAN DYKE PARKS created Orange Crate Art, what we in the rock critic world would call a “sweeping” “song cycle” about the beauty and majesty of the state of California. This month the album is reissued as a very lush sounding 2CD set and for the first time on vinyl (on 2 LPs), and it sounds real pretty.
Those of you who’ve read even a few of my reviews know my typical MO and tone is often a little “humorous,” “sarcastic” and/or “what-have-you,” so you’d be excused for thinking that my use of the phrase “real pretty” might be meant to induce snickers or other similar results in the reader. In fact I’m being straight up with you. Not only is Orange Crate Art real pretty, the CD sounds amazing. (I can’t speak for the vinyl but I can guess it’s at least as good in analog as it is digitally.) I have it on good authority* that this version of the album was mastered for better dynamic range and with more respect to the music than the original, which, let’s face it, was put out in 1994 when neither Brian Wilson or Van Dyke Parks were probably a high priority with their record label. Omnivore is much more concerned about sound quality than Warner Bros. was at that time.
Orange Crate Art has a lush soundscape thanks to Van Dyke Parks’ beautiful melodies and arrangements, and – the reason for this pairing of pop titans – Brian Wilson’s vocals. They’re not all Brian, but much of it is, including the lead vocals and the main backing vox. Along with a stellar team of vocalists, Wilson and Parks have put together an album that is super pleasant right out of the gate and welcomes repeated listenings. Musically, it’s like a cross between The Beach Boys and the Gershwins. Lyrically, Parks’ lyrics bounce back ’n’ forth between cute, clever and corny, and that sometimes became a slight impediment to my enjoyment. But as stated above, I can be a bit curmudgeonly so it’s not surprising that something like that might bug me.
But basically, if you dug Parks’ pairing with Wilson’s Beach Boys and Smiley Smile/Smile, or the absolutely brilliant “Sail On, Sailor” (from the Boys’ 1973 Holland album), you will get a kick out of Orange Crate Art. Recorded in the mid ’90s when Brian’s voice was still what we think of as Brian’s voice, it is a thoroughly relaxing and smile-inducing album.
Format notes: Orange Crate Art is available as 2CD set that includes an entire second disc of the instrumental versions of the songs, a 2LP black vinyl set that splits the album up to four sides (preserving the ability to get as much info into the grooves as possible), and a super limited orange vinyl 2LP set that sold out almost immediately on Omnivore’s web site. – Marsh Gooch
3.5/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-373, 2020)
* Mark Smotroff’s post on AudiophileReview.com is highly recommended for both a thorough review of the album and info about the mastering of this release.