I have come to think of Morgan Taylor, the creator of Gustafer Yellowgold, as the exemplar of the Kids New Wave, the term I have coined just now to encompass the genre and the artists responsible for its resurgence, especially in the past five years. A background in making music for adults, the unplanned shift into making music for kids, the occasional difficulty in figuring out where the distinction lies between the two -- the New York-based Taylor fits all of these categories. By no means is Taylor the only artist these apply to, but he's done a great job creating a musical path all his own, on his own terms.
Taylor's second foray into the world of Gustafer Yellowgold, the DVD/CD set Have You Never Been Yellow?, released this week, is every bit as wonderful as the debut Wide Wild World and shows that Taylor has a fabulous career ahead of him.
What distinguishes Taylor from many other talented kids' musicians is his visual artistic skills, which are obviously on prime display on the DVD. If you're not familiar with the Gustafer "animation," I can try to describe it, but it's easier to just show you. Here's the leadoff clip from the DVD/CD, "Pinecone Lovely"
As you can see, it's animated in only a minimal sense -- the camera pans and scans, zooms in and out, and various components of picture move around, and that's about it. But it's very absorbing to watch. Taylor does the drawings but does get some help with animation aspects. While the animation on Wide Wild World was fine, the pictures and animation here are crisper and sharper -- the difference is small but noticeable.
Of course, the animation could be done by Pixar and if the music (and images) were dull, you wouldn't care. Luckily, that isn't the case. As a group, I think the songs are stronger here than on the debut. "Pinecone Lovely," with its ode to nature ("Pinecone Lovely / To thee I sing") and sing-along chorus, I think finally fulfills the promise of the karaoke audio option that is once again present on the disk. "Beard For All Seasons" has a touch of Beatles to it while "The Bluebird Tree" gives Ralph Covert's "Hideaway" a run for its money for the title of "Best Song About Needing Time By Yourself." There are some tracks I think are only OK musically, but there's definitely no filler. Pop and power-pop, well-played, with some brass instruments providing some sonic boost, particularly on the closer, "Dream In Green."
And the images are strong, too. The aforementioned "Bluebird Tree" has some of the most stunning visuals (the title is literal) on the disk, while "The Mustard Slugs" pairs amusing images with the silly math story. And, yes, "Punching Cheese" is the sequel to Wide Wild World's "I Jump On Cake" and every bit as funny. In fact, the whole disk feels ever so slightly lighter than the original, if only because the videos here seem a little more like vignettes rather than part of a story (Wide Wild World has a slightly stronger narrative drive). That's neither good nor bad, just that if you're looking for something with a concrete beginning/middle/end, you'll be disappointed here.
I should also note that the DVD comes with, yes, an audio commentary. Morgan Taylor does the honors, of course, and it's definitely worth a listen for an adult Gustafer fan (or older child with the patience to listen to someone talking over the music for 30 minutes). Finding out which Steve Martin movie helped inspire "Aye, Aphid" or which '70s band "Dream In Green" apes was a cool bonus. Repeating spins probably aren't necessary, but it's worth at least one run-through.
Kids ages 2 through 7 are most likely to enjoy the animation (and songs) here. In addition to "Pinecone Lovely," you can also watch the clip for "Birds" here. (Gustafer's two YouTube pages are here and here.) Or listen to "Beard for All Seasons" and "The Mustard Slugs" at his Myspace page. For being from the sun, Gustafer's adapted quickly to our modern technological modes of communication, no?
Gustafer Yellowgold's Have You Never Been Yellow? is a fabulous DVD/CD set. Taylor has a gift for memorable images both visual and musical and I'm looking forward to many more images from him in the years to come. This set is highly recommended.