Personnel includes: Van Dyke Parks (vocals); Ron Elliott (guitar); Nicolai Bolin, Vasil Crienica (balalaika); Misha Goodatieff (violin); Virginia Majewski (viola); Trefoni Rizz, Orville "Red" Rhodes (strings); Gayle Levant (harp); James Horn, Ted Nash (woodwinds); Carl Fortina (accordion); Richard Hyde, Thomas Shepard (brass); George Washington Brown (piano); James Gordon, Hal Blaine (percussion); Jack Glaser, El Supremo (sound effects); Gaile Parks, Durrie Parks (background vocals); Randy Newman, Tommy Tedesco, Ron Elliot, Tom Scott, Steve Young.
When this album was released in 1968 it stood apart from everything else--and still does today. This is not because SONG CYCLE was ahead of its time--rather, it belongs to another time and place, a parallel world that draws breath irrespective of calendar, clock, or map. Van Dyke Park's debut carries an apt and simple title. These dozen selections are of a piece, both because of their arrangement and their composition. Parks was already considered a talent to be reckoned with following his collaborative work with Brian Wilson, penning lyrics for The Beach Boys--evocative nuggets of seductive inscrutability. Here again the sounds and the lyrics dart in and around each other like poetic dancers. A song such as "The All Golden" has no clear antecedents. It's musical theater filtered through a hallucinogenic kaleidoscope. The whole work is rich with a sense of place. It feels quintessentially American, but of the sort that celebrates the strong individual voice. This is an album of singular vision and rare beauty.
Uncut (p.110) - "Pursuing its own sense of pace and geography, SONG CYCLE is a musical travelogue billowing amid a Joycean stream-of-consciousness..."
The Wire (3/99, pp.62-63) - "...SONG CYCLE appeared...in the foaming wake of PET SOUNDS and SGT. PEPPER. Strange times and a very strange album, highly rated by many cognoscenti....A dense and glorious jungle of color, the arrangements on its short songs push the studio to its limits..."