DVD/CD Review: "Readeez Volume Two" / "Songeez" - Readeez

ReadeezVol2lowres.jpgThere are 3 operative points of comparison when discussing Readeez, the creation of Atlanta-based Michael Rachap -- Baby Einstein, Schoolhouse Rock, and Sesame Street. Or, at least, those were the three I thought of as I listened to the latest Readeez products, the Readeez Volume Two DVD and the Songeez CD.

Let's start with Schoolhouse Rock, famously created to try to educate kids via advertising techniques. Rachap used to work in the advertising industry, but rather than deliver educational nuggets via 3-minute pop songs, he typically does it in about 60 seconds. Which means his educational scope, such as it is, is a little circumscribed -- it's hard enough to describe conjunctions in 3 minutes and essentially impossible in 60 seconds. So the songs that have some educational content, such as "A Special Name for Twelve" or "Circle and Square" (from the first DVD, but also on the Songeez disk), cover much narrower ground, which is fine. But if you're expecting "learning" from these two items, it's much more on the level of TMBG's Here Come the 123s (with some Dial-A-Song mixed in) than Here Comes Science.

Let's move, then, to TMBG's Disney label mates, Baby Einstein. I know that it's easy to slag on the series, but if you set aside their overhyped claims for the product, their later stuff is competently produced and offers a wide variety of visual stimulation for young'uns. For an independently produced DVD, Volume 2 looks great. (It's what made this headline -- Readeez Company Acquired by Disney" -- so great. Yes, it's on both disks.) The attention to detail at times even surpasses Einstein's (note the timing of the placement of periods at the end of "The Land of I Don't Know"). The comparison does, however, highlight one of Readeez' ("Readeez's"?) few shortcomings, and that's the relative monotony of the visuals on the DVD. I like the concept of displaying the words as you hear them, and the crisp, clean look of the background and text is balm for a "Dear Teacher"-font world gone awry. But I long for more visual variety, as the Einstein videos employ. The occasional use of pictures or non-white backgrounds to offset the charmingly illustrated Julian and Isabel Waters (or live-action Rachap) would go a long way.

Which brings us to Sesame Street. Forty years down the line, they've had some great songs written for the show. The best songs don't feel like they were written with education in mind. And while the Volume One DVD often felt like the "education" aspect played a more important role, Volume Two has much less of that feel, and, as a result is a more enjoyable experience sonically. (Though Volume One is not without considerable charm.)
Songeezlowres.jpgIf there's any proof that Rachap is himself satisfied with this new direction, it's in the fact that Songeez has about 3 songs from the first DVD, with the other couple dozen or so coming from the new one. The songs are mostly rock and pop and over the course of nearly 30 tracks begin to blend together, but there's lots of great stuff there. I have a soft spot for the goofy ones -- the brilliant, anarchic "Boomba Boom" and "The Duck Song" -- but the slightly more conventional songs are good, too -- "Watermelon," perhaps" and "Chandelier." And Rachap the songwriter is not above wearing his heart on his sleeve, such as on "You Have a Heart," "Tonight And Every Night." (Rachap the video-producer is also not above this -- see the quoting of Princess Bride near the end of the Volume Two DVD.

Kids between the ages of 3 and 8 will enjoy the DVD the most (the age range for the CDs might be a bit greater at the top end). You can watch a wide variety of Readeez videos at their YouTube channel (or a few here too). The packaging for Songeez is nice, too, with a full lyrics booklet.

I have not done Michael Rachap justice with my review, rambling as it is, because the chief allure of Readeez is their simplicity and brevity, their mixing of well-written meldoies and straight-to-the-point lyrics with a clean, compelling visual aesthetic. See, even that? Way too complicated. So, here it is, as short as I can.

Readeez Volume Two and Songeez. Both definitely recommended