DVD Review Roundup: Gustafer Yellowgold, Readeez, and more

It's been a (comparatively) long-held belief of mine that DVDs generally don't change anyone's overall impression of an artist.  If you love the artist, only a shoddy, over-priced video will sour you on their DVD, while the most competently produced visual version of music your family didn't like on CD still won't make it onto your TV or computer.  With that in mind, here are 6 DVDs with a musical hook that may be worth checking out even if you're not completely familiar with the artists.

Let's start with the two best disks here, each from loooongtime Zooglobble favorites and each recommended without hesitation.  Not surprisingly they're from artists for whom videos are an integral part of their music-making -- Morgan Taylor's Gustafer Yellowgold series and Michael Rachap's Readeez series.  Gustafer Yellowgold's Year in the Day is the fifth CD/DVD set about the yellow alien from Minnesota by way of the sun.  Its theme?  Holidays of the year.  As Taylor has gradually used up the songs he wrote many years ago at different times and started writing new songs, the DVDs have become more focused thematically, and this one holds together better than its predecessors.  The songs are mostly the '70s (soft-)rock Taylor must write in his sleep, though he dips into more varied musical ponds, such as the electronica-esque touches of "Four Leaved Clover," written by Taylor's wife, singer-songwriter Rachel Loshak.  Other highlights also include the spirited leadoff track "New Is The New Old" and sweet Valentine's Day song "Keep It Simple Sweetheart."  While mostly uptempo, the album does nestle down into coziness with "Pumpkin Pied" and "Fa And A La," the final two tracks.  The distinctive animation drawn by Taylor and lightly animated hasn't changed, either (see the YouTube channel for more).  There's not a lot that's changed from pevious albums, and in the case of Year In The Day, that's a good thing.

There isn't a lot that's changed in the world of Julian and Isabel Waters, either.  They're the animated father-daughter team at the heart of Readeez and their innovatively-titled third DVD, Readeez Volume Three: Knowledge is good. (I kid because I love.)  Well, OK, there's a new character: Olivia Longlife, a librarian, who makes a handful of appearances.  And it includes "Readee-Oh," Readeez-style videos for songs performed by other kindie artists such as Recess Monkey, Coal Train Railroad, the Okee Dokee Brothers, and Irish band the Speks.

But at its core, this video, like its predecessors, features songs about a minute in length (maybe more) on preschool-aged topics accompanied by minimally-animated videos.  The songs and videos strike just the right balance of earnestness and whimsy and their brevity helps keep the more edu-ma-ctional songs from annoying the parent who may already know how to, say, eat properly ("Plate, Cup and Saucer").  The short length isn't surprising, considering Rachap's advertising background -- think of them as Pre-Schoolhouse Rock.  (Watch Vol. 3 videos and many more.)  As before, Readeez Vol. 3 isn't just good for you, it's, well, just good.

Beyond these two videos, here are four more worth exploring further.

  • Secret Agent 23 Skidoo - Spelunk the Funk!: Features a live show by the best kid-hopper in the business in his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, drawn primarily from his Underground Playground album.  Lots of guest vocalists and props to Skidoo's daughter, DJ Fireworks, who spends the whole concert on stage dancing and sometimes singing.  Also includes a couple
  • Debbie and FriendsStory Songs & Sing Alongs: Debbie Cavalier has invested a lot of time (and, presumably, not a small amount of money) in making videos for her story songs with animation company Planet Sunday.  All those videos (plus the fun "Hangin' Around") make their way to this disk, plus 2 live performances.
  • Eric HermanThe Elephant DVD: I would say that it features "The Elephant Song," a kindie-video classic (and YouTube viral sensation) and leave it at that -- because, really, that might be enough -- but there's other stuff on here.  Ten more songs, live footage, 15 songs on a "jukebox" feature, and what might be the best kindie DVD bonus feature ever: Herman being interviewed by his daughters.  Somebody get them their own show!
  • Spaghetti EddieSpaghetti Eddie! and Other Children's Videos: It's brief -- just 5 songs and 15 minutes in length -- and the videos are pretty simple, featuring green screen technology, animation, and kids running around.  But for a relatively new kids artist, it's a decent-looking disk.  Check out the YouTube channel for more.