Review: Family Favorites - The Biscuit Brothers

FamilyFavorites.jpgAustin's Biscuit Brothers are best seen on TV or live. There's a definite theatrical sensibility in the episodes you can watch on selected PBS stations or on DVD, and they've been performing live even longer. (The live shows were the inspiration for the TV show, in fact.)

As good as those shows are, though, trying to capture the essential Biscuit nature on CD is a little tougher. Their previous disk, Old MacDonald's EIEI Radio, sounded a little bit like a (long) TV episode, with a little emphasis on the educational component of the TV show. It usually worked OK, but there were points where it seemed like there were some visuals missing and it wasn't as entertaining as watching the show.

Now, with their just-released Family Favorites, they're taking a slightly different approach, essentially forgoing attempts at direct education and an episodic structure, and putting together an album of fun songs, some of which were originally recorded for the TV show, some of which are new for this album. While the result is definitely not like the show in its overall structure, the album does a fine job of capturing the Biscuit Brothers spirit, energy, and humor.

The album starts off with a great version of the "Wabash Cannonball" -- its soaring chorus is a high point of the album -- and proceeds to wander through some time-tested tunes. Irving Berlin ("Alexander's Ragtime Band) and George M. Cohan ("Grand Old Flag" and "Yankee Doodle Scarecrow" -- OK, that last one has been modified a bit from the original) help the 20th century make an appearance, while "Old Dan Tucker" gets a smooth, polished performance from the band. Indeed, one of the pleasures of the CD is listening to the Brothers' fine voices and Allen Robertson's musical arrangements in song after song. And while the Biscuit Brothers' primary musical approach is renditions of folk songs, they're talented enough to make the alphabet song sound a bit like the Fifth Dimension on "Alphabet!"

And, yeah, Tiny Scarecrow, one of my favorite kids' show characters of all time (and one who gets high marks from my kids, too), gets his share of air time -- he's appropriately goofy on the "World's Shortest Dance Break," he negotiates the rapid-fire lyrics on "Tiger Rag" -- so that pleased me. In the let's-make-a-silly-rhyme "Schnitzelbank," he makes a Rene Magritte reference about floating apples -- high and low in the same song.

These songs are really an all-ages setlist, but given a couple of the titles, let's put the target range at kids ages 2 through 9. You can hear clips from the 34-minute album at its CDBaby page.

If you're already a Biscuit Brothers fan, you've probably picked up Family Favorites by now -- and if you haven't, you should. For those of you who aren't sure about the Brothers, I think this is a fun album you can enjoy even if you've never seen the show -- it's the best audio introduction to the Biscuit Brothers. Recommended.