With about 30 years of recording behind them, Trout Fishing in America have a back catalog that is plenty large enough with which to start doing some interesting things. To wit, My Name Is Chicken Joe, the first book collaboration the duo of Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet have done with The Secret Mountain publishing company.
The collection is out this week and it essentially is a "best of" collection of some of Trout's wordier, folkier tracks. The "star," so to speak, of the 11-track collection is "Chicken Joe," which gets its lyrics (about animals with non-sensical names like the cat named "Chicken Joe") illustrated over a couple dozen pages. The illustrations by Stephane Jorisch remind me of gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman with about 90% less gonzo. (There is no other way to describe them than "cute.") Lyrics to the other ten tracks each get a couple pages of illustration as well.
But we're mostly about the music here. The 11 tracks -- all previously-released -- include a number of excellent Trout Fishing tracks, not just the title track, but also "My Best Day," "It's A Puzzle," and "Fill It Up." For the most part, the selections tend toward the folkier (notwithstanding the rocking "I Can Dance" and the klezmer-touched "Boiled Okra and Spinach"). It's a fine collection, but it by no means is a complete Trout Fishing "Best Of." The collection lacks Trout classics such as "18 Wheels on a Big Rig," "Three Little Ducks," and "The Window," but those are songs that depend upon interaction between Grimwood and Idlet and not so much on the lyrics. Written down on paper, those latter songs wouldn't be so interesting -- it's Trout's classic live stage banter that makes those songs favorites to many listeners. The songs here are songs on which the lyrics themselves take center stage.
The songs will be of most interest to kids ages 5 through 9. (The book, maybe a little younger.) You can hear clips of the 33-minute album wherever books/CDs are sold online (or watch this video of the title track). If you're interested, you can also buy the CD just by itself, but with the book barely costing more than the CD, I say go for the book. (I should note that book itself is of high quality -- typically the books in these book/CD arrangements have a pretty cheap feel to them, but not this one.)
Longtime Trout Fishing in America fans will likely appreciate the book My Name Is Chicken Joe because it marries some delightful illustrations to a sweet Trout song, though may be disappointed by the lack of even a single new track. I'd recommend it more to newcomers to the band, who may appreciate the book more for that "best of" quality. Here's hoping, though, it leads to a couple more books (and, by extension, a couple more greatest hits volumes).