Review: Did You Hear That? - Fox & Branch

DidYouHearThat.jpgAll of you who still hold fond memories of the Jerry Garcia / David Grisman CD Not For Kids Only, pay attention.

Did You Hear That? (2007) is that album's sequel.

OK, technically speaking, the album was released recently by the Wisconsin folk duo Fox & Branch, not by Garcia & Grisman, but seeing as Jerry Garcia passed away many years ago, it was probably a bit much asking for a sequel from the originals.

What I mean is that the spirit of that first CD (nearly 15 years old now) is continued here -- genial renditions of folk classics, smartly rendered. The organizing theme of the CD is that it features 15 different instruments (one for each of its 15 tracks), resulting in what the band describes not inaccurately as a musical version of Where's Waldo?. While you could easily listen to 14 of the 15 tracks and not be aware of that theme, that educational impulse is found throughout the disk (explaining how to do the arm motions for Woody Guthrie's "Bling Blang" or describing what the "Hambone" is on the track of the same name).

The duo have a definite sense of humor, which is hit-and-miss, especially if the CD's stuck on "repeat." Sometimes their humor and their willingness to keep folksongs alive by adding new lyrics works quite well, such as on the rhyme-trading "There Was a Man." (That keeping-alive aspect is one of the duo's most appealing traits.) There are other times, however, when the interplay loses its sparkle after repeated listenings (an overly long "Green Grass, for example). It strikes me that that interplay would be lots of fun if you were hearing it for the first or second time live -- at times it just doesn't work so well on the repeated play of the disk.

My favorite parts were probably the two least kid-specific tunes, an uptempo "Georgia Camp Meeting" and the slow waltz "Skye Boat Song." It's those tunes that show off the instrumental skills of the duo and their guests the best, though even simple songs such as "Bought Me A Cat" have nice arrangements. The duo's vocals are more Woody Guthrie than Pete Seeger, but vocal preferences are highly variable, so you may have a different take.

The album's most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7 (they're the ones who might most appreciate the "find the instrument" aspect of the CD. You can listen to samples at the album's CD Baby page. If you like that, you may also want to hear samples from their first kids' album Mama Don't Allow, which is similar in tone.

Did You Hear That? is a solid album in the folk tradition geared for kids. As noted above, fans of Not For Kids Only will very much enjoy this CD, and those looking for a gently educational component to their music (especially libraries and schools) will find this CD a good addition to their collection.