Review: Deep Woods Revival - Red Yarn

Deep Woods Revival album cover

Deep Woods Revival album cover

Long before “kids music” was a category in the record store stacks or iTunes playlists, folk music was the heart of recorded music for kids.  And while folk music remains an integral part of kids music, in the modern kids music world, other genres -- rock, to be sure, but also hip-hop, reggae, and others -- have expanded their influence.

Now, I would argue that that increase in non-folk music in kindie has specifically been one of the major contributors toward the vitality of the genre, but others would also argue that something has been lost when the music that was part of the American culture for generations slips away.

Portland’s Andy Furgeson, a puppeteer and musician who records for families as Red Yarn, doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who would rail against shifts in musical tastes.  Rather, he's viewing it as a challenge to be met head-on.  After all, if you title your latest album Deep Woods Revival, by definition you've decided to bring all the energy you can muster to new takes on old classics.

In the case of the traditional song “Buckeye Jim,” for example, it’s a fairly straightforward cover of the version Burl Ives recorded more than a half-century ago with some new lyrics added on.  For another track, “Animal Fair,” Furgeson merges two songs from Carl Sandburg’s famous American Songbag, pulling “The John B. Sails” into the mix.  Those are just two examples -- the entire album draws on a variety of folk music sources -- Alan Lomax, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Henry Spalding’s Encyclopedia of Black Folklore and Humor.

While the first half of the album is described as being for all kids, the liner notes suggests that the second half is for "brave kids and grown-ups."  That half includes songs touching on more serious topics, like death and the not-always benevolent nature of the animal world.  The album’s title track, the only song with entirely new music and lyrics, leads off that half and features a chorus of Portland-area musicians standing in for a forest’s worth of critters great and small having a revival.

I think the album is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 10.  (I think the second half might be of more interest to kindergartners and older, but it's not inappropriate for even the younger set.)  You can stream the 36-minute album here.  I'd also note that the physical copy of the album features some lovely artwork (dioramas! maps! illustrations!) made by many people, but most notably Ryan Bruce (art direction and illustrations) and Heather Lin (album design).

Red Yarn’s fervor for American folk music is evident on Deep Woods Revival.  While folk music has never gone away in the children’s music genre, he forcefully makes the case for its continued relevance in the era of the mp3.  Highly recommended.

ote: I was given a copy of the album for possible review.

Listen To This: "Sunshine Family" - Mista Cookie Jar (feat. Aaron Nigel Smith)

"Sunshine Family" single cover

"Sunshine Family" single cover

It's another super kindie duet from SoCal's Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips.  This time, for "Sunshine Family," MCJ brings in Portland's Aaron Nigel Smith for a summery jam with reggae, dub, and a bit of hip-hop in the mix.

Co-written by Mista Cookie Jar (aka C.J. Pizarro) and Smith, you can think of it as a big (BIG) I-5 duet from the the West Coast artists.  (And no offense to the East Coast, but the West Coast OWNS summer.)

Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips (feat. Aaron Nigel Smith) - "Sunshine Family" [Bandcamp]

Video: "Bile Them Cabbage" - Red Yarn

Deep Woods Revival album cover

Deep Woods Revival album cover

The folk music revivalist Red Yarn is back and for the first video from his new album Deep Woods Revival, he (unsurprisingly) brings a whole bunch of Portland-area folks -- and puppets -- for a singalong.  "Bile Them Cabbage" will sound an awful lot like "Shake Those Simmons Down," but that's part of the beauty of folk music, how it bends to suit musicians' will.

Also, it's good for singing along with.

Red Yarn - "Bile Them Cabbage" [YouTube]

Review: Flight of the Blue Whale - Pointed Man Band

Flight of the Blue Whale album cover

Flight of the Blue Whale album cover

When you look at the Amazon page for Flight of the Blue Whale, the second album from Portland, Oregon's Pointed Man Band, here are the three genres in which Dan Elliott (who in the great indie rock tradition has taken on a band nom de plume for his music) has slotted the album:

- Children's Music

- Avant Garde & Free Jazz

- Miscellaneous

That, readers, is a review -- and an accurate one -- in seven words.  Oh, were we all able to be so concise!  But citations of Amazon genre categorizations are not why you visit this site, so onward I press.

In my review of the debut Pointed Man Band album Swordfish Tango from 2013, I wrote that the album was a "combination of Tom Waits and Shel Silverstein, the Beatles and Parisian cafes, the music [smelling] of hardwood floors and flannel and wood construction blocks."  The follow-up is both slightly more mainstream and weirder, if that's possible.

Flight of the Blue Whale tells a story in song of a red fox who operates a small clock and watch repair shop, comes home to find moles invading his garden and the town, and goes off on an adventure to... well, it ends with a flight of a blue whale.  What happens in that ellipsis is, frankly, a little confusing and I don't even really think that's the point.  Bottom line, the more conventional narrative drive of the story -- whose moral is about taking time to dream and not just work -- is just a structure on which to hang these songs.

And the songs are just as odd as their predecessors.  The album kicks off with perhaps the most straightforward track, "Red Fox," an indie-pop tune featuring an infectiously catching organ motif, but from that track, we move on to the stomping sound of "Moles on Parade" and the accordion-drenched near-instrumental "Valse de Taupier," one of a couple waltzes on the album.  Sometimes Elliott sounds like Tom Waits (as on "Moles" and "Baleen Curse"), but more often his voice will remind listeners of a certain age and sensibility of David Byrne, as on careening "The Plan" and the modern big band sound of "Tunneling to Paradise."  The title track (another instrumental) sounds like a Parisian cafe dragged begrudingly out to the seaside.

The 33-minute album will be most appreciated by kids ages 5 through 9.  You can listen to the album here.  (I also think the album artwork from Brooke Weeber is lovely and complements the album and story itself.)

Flight of the Blue Whale is most definitely not an album that will please all listeners.  It is, as I've noted, a little confusing in places, esoteric in its musical choices -- it's not eager to please.  It is, however, joyful and all those things I just mentioned are also its strengths.  Some kids and families will adore this album -- they are the families who probably really liked Wes Anderson's take on The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  (Note: We were one of those families.  This album is in some sense a spiritual sequel to it.)  So, not for everyone, but maybe for you.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I received a copy of the album for possible review.

Itty-Bitty Review: Calling All the Kids to the Yard - Cat Doorman

Calling All the Kids to the Yard

Calling All the Kids to the Yard

A little more than a couple years ago, Portland, Oregon artist and musician Julianna Bright gave the world her Cat Doorman alter ego and a fantabulous debut album.

Now she's back with Calling All the Kids to the Yard, the first of 4 digital-only EPs Bright plans on releasing in 2015.  And based on the 12-plus minutes on these first 4 tracks, we're in for a treat.

All the hallmarks of that debut -- the tumbledown organic folk-rock sound, the fully-felt emotions, Bright's enthusiastic vocals -- reappear here.  If the first album's theme was of individual expression, the songs here focus more on the world outside.  "Loving Cup" starts out with a slow acapella chorus, then moves into a rocking meditation ("I'm ready as I've never been / To slow my breath and to take in / All the world's wonders, all its kin / I start to see you.").  "Wake Up" features funky organ, crunchy guitar, hand claps, and an encouragement for the listener to "reach out" and pay attention to the world.  After the title track, the album closes with the least-lullaby-ish verson of "All the Pretty Horses" I've ever heard.

You can stream (and download) the album, most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 9, here.  Fans of the debut album will definitely find more music here to their family's liking, but this should appeal to a broad range of Zooglobble readers and kindie fans.  If possible, I like this even more than the debut.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I received a (digital) copy of the album for possible review.

Review: The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow - Big World Audio Theatre


Let's give a hearty "Ahoy, mateys!" for the crew of Big World Audio Theatre, whose debut story and music collection The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow set sail earlier this year.

(Let me also promise you that the rest of this review will be free of sailing-related puns.)

Based in Portland, Oregon and headed up by Laki Karavias and Jason Reuter, the Theatre (really, a loose collective of area musicians and artists) turned to Kickstarter to raise monies for the production and release of the album.  The result is a lovingly crafted album and physical product that tells the story of Captain Gregory and the S.S. Bungalow's trek across the Atlantic Ocean to find the Lullaby Islands and the treasure found there.

Voice actor Kevin Barbare narrates the story, which is filled with enough dramatic plot turns, gentle good humor, atmospheric sound effects, and occasional Princess Bride-style meta-commentary to keep the target audience hooked and any adults tuned in amused.  The chamber pop-folk, featuring the occasional stringed instrument, horns, and pedal steel, runs the gamut from peppy to slow as befitting the story's twists and turns (sometimes in the same song, as in "Life Is Good."  "Follow the Albatross" sounds like it could have been culled from an Uncle Tupelo album.  One song, "Aquinas," commemorating a long-loved pet, is particularly sweet and moving in a way few kindie songs are.  While the songs are meant to serve a story, speaking as someone who primarily listened to the songs alone, they stand up well on their own.

The album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9.  The story version of the album is nearly 75 minutes long; a second disk featuring only the song tracks clocks in at about 32 minutes.  (You can listen to the whole thing here.)  The physical version, featuring Ward Jenkins' illustrations, is solidly packaged -- for multiple reasons, the CD would make a lovely gift.  (I have no doubt that if they ever chose to go the vinyl route, that would look - and sound - splendid as well.)

The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow was clearly a labor of love, with a fine attention to detail.  I would love to see one of those multinational entertainment conglomerates figure out how to spread this far and wide, though I know that's unlikely.  Instead, we'll just have to hope that Big World enjoyed this labor of love enough to make them want to attempt another.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I was given a copy for possible review.