Record Rack: James Maddock, Van Dyke Parks

One to Delight….One to Fright

By Brian Arsenault

James Maddock

Another Life  (InKind)

On Another Life,  James Maddock poetically ponders life as it moves along without recourse to salvation or maybe even forgiveness, particularly of self.

Maddock has been called the Brit Bob Dylan, I guess because he lives in Greenwich Village and is a big part of its folk scene.  Of course, Maddock doesn’t sound British and Dylan doesn’t live there any more. Though there’s a lot of people who act like he does.

Who Maddock’s melancholy may more remind you of is Neil Young. Carrying on despite life’s pain and all the foolishness we create.

“We all want another life” . . . but would we “be a better man.”

Hard to tell but there’s poetry in the pain.  There are “fireflies in the park looking for each other in the dark.”  Yet some of us, maybe all of us after a time, have a “lost spark.”

Yes, Maddock is melancholy much of the time but he is not bitter, just regretful. And who past 40 isn’t.  And who can blame us because “nothing can prepare you for your life”  since life is “a rocky road that never lets you go where you want to go.”

His is not an angry voice.  It is a soft voice and we may need as many of those as we can get, especially in these times. He’d like to put those angry “words back in your mouth.”

Maddock is homesick but not so much for a place as for what we have loved and lost.  He’d give back time to himself and the rest of us if he could — “head out on the highway, relive it all again.”

Wouldn’t you like to be “kissing girls you never kissed” but at the same time hold on to what you have: “I’m a fool but I’m yours.”

Musically, the album can sometimes be a little dull.  But then again, I’m not a big fan of all the new wave string bands that seem to be all the rage.  You know who I mean.  And a string of folk ballads can get just a little repetitive.

At times, though, as on “Arizona Girl” and “Better on My Own,”” the band kicks it up a notch and plays with real cleverness and snap.

* * * * * * * *

 Van Dyke Parks

 Songs Cycled (Bella Union)

Unlike on Songs Cycled, wherein Van Dyke Parks creates a torture rack of calliope laden faux cleverness. This album is just a painful abuse of the listener.

Oh yeah, I know about how Van Dyke is supposed to be so quirky and creative. Balderdash!  This is monotonous atonality dressed up with some au courant cultural observations.

When you can tell what he’s singing.  Or if he’s singing.

The instrumentals are everything Spike Jones might have wanted to be.  For me, it’s run from the room screaming time.

Of course, I always feel like dashing when someone occasionally puts on a Jones’ abomination and starts to tell me what an underappreciated musical genius he was.  Most of the people who do that are dead, thank goodness.

To further establish my lack of objectivity, I’m not much of a Randy Newman fan either and I think Smile the most overrated rock (or any) albums of all time. And have you heard Brian Wilson sing lately?

Anyway, rather than listen to this album, go ride a merry-go-round for about 40 minutes without stopping.  And you’ll get the general sing-songy fingers-on-a-blackboard idea. Also the upset stomach and mild dizziness.

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


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