It's a sign, I think, of how popular Gustafer Yellowgold has become that I don't feel the need to spend much time explaining the character or the whole concept in this review. A lot of readers will probably be familiar with Gustafer and his fellow characters and the "moving picture book" style of animation developed by the songwriter and illustrator behind Gustafer, Morgan Taylor.
It's actually that familiarity that Taylor uses to his advantage in Gustafer Yellowgold's Mellow Fever, his third collection of Gustafer tunes and animated videos. Instead of focusing mostly on Gustafer, some of the songs/videos here focus on other characters, almost to the exclusion of Gustafer. "Sugar Boat" (which features Wilco's John Stirratt and Pat Sansone and a soaring chorus) revolves around Gustafer's biggest fan, Wincey the ferret. Sisson the blue worm is the focus of "Quite Easily Lost," animated to a gentle pop duet between Taylor and Lisa Loeb. It's no longer necessary to have Gustafer be the protagonist all the time. Indeed, the funniest track on the collection, "Panther Stamps Pants" features the pterodactyl Forrest Applecrombie and some excellent whistling.
There's also more backstory to Gustafer than we've had before, which provides some of the more moving moments on the disk. "Butter Pond Lake" should've been a hit on AM radio 35 years ago, telling the story of summer family vacations back on the sun. "Sunpod" obliquely tells the story of Gustafer leaving his home on the sun to live on earth, and while it's not depressing, you can't tell a story like that using humor. (And, hey, the tinge of sadness that runs through some of the Gustafer songs is one of the things that sets it apart.) The story of his arrival is carried on in a later video for "Underwater Stars," and it's that unity in the disk (shown also in "Constellation Pies," which is essentially an instrumental recap of the songs that have come before) that make it the most solid disk yet. If there's a downside, it's that I didn't like the songs overall quite as much as I did on Have You Never Been Yellow?. The songs are good, they just had slightly less "oomph" for me overall compared to its predecessor.
The disk is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 8. You can watch videos at the Gustafer website or on YouTube. The package includes both a DVD and a music-only CD, so you can whistle along to "Panther Stamps Pants" at work or in the car. The DVD also includes a mockumentary "Looking For... Gustafer Yellowgold" which will completely mystify your kids but bring a chuckle or two to the adults.
Three albums in, I think Morgan Taylor is just now scratching the surface of what he can do with Gustafer Yellowgold. Gustafer Yellowgold's Mellow Fever is another collection of strong indie-pop songwriting from an increasingly confident storyteller and illustrator. Can't wait for the fourth set. Definitely recommended.