Van Dyke Parks – review

Borderline, London

"A waltz! Don't jump into the moshpit!" trills diminutive southern gent Van Dyke Parks, as elegant as a paddle steamer after covering John Hartford's Mississippi bluegrass standard Delta Queen Waltz. This rare, intimate evening with the legendary Brian Wilson collaborator and composer is as much after-dinner repartee as it is sweeping pre-rock revue. A natural poet "brought out of befuddlement" aged 70 to promote Songs Cycled, his first solo album in 24 years, Parks dishes out witty wisdoms and stories about spats with Dylan and lost weekends with Lennon between tributes to Harry Nilsson, Lowell George, 19th-century Louisiana composer Louis Gottschalk and an attendant Loudon Wainwright III. Whether begging not to be subjected to recording for YouTube or bemoaning the lingering nuisance of rock'n'roll – "It barked its bite and it's still here, I dream of going somewhere else" – he's a Dixie Peter Ustinov.

When he turns to his keyboard and plays, he's no less delightful. Accompanied by harp, strings and percussion, his explorations in ragtime, Broadway showtunes, Tin Pan Alley flapper jazz and Weimar cabaret are skewed towards the arthouse by purposeful staccato bum notes, frail melodies and snippets of Yankee battle hymns.

He declares his canon's theme to be "America, warts and all", although the contemporary agit-prop concerns of Songs Cycled (9/11, Katrina, Iraq) are avoided tonight. Instead the evening has a celebratory historical bent: Cowboy condemns his homeland's imperialist history, but three songs from his 1984 Brer Rabbit tribute album Jump! and tropical frolics such as Sail Away and a calypso commemorating Franklin Roosevelt's 1936 visit to Trinidad exude sun-drenched Americana. A touching duet on Nilsson's He Needs Me with Guatemalan singer Gaby Moreno, a spritely tinkle through Anything Goes and Parks heads straight to the bar for a drink with Wainwright. Another lost weekend well earned.

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Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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