Review: The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow - Big World Audio Theatre


Let's give a hearty "Ahoy, mateys!" for the crew of Big World Audio Theatre, whose debut story and music collection The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow set sail earlier this year.

(Let me also promise you that the rest of this review will be free of sailing-related puns.)

Based in Portland, Oregon and headed up by Laki Karavias and Jason Reuter, the Theatre (really, a loose collective of area musicians and artists) turned to Kickstarter to raise monies for the production and release of the album.  The result is a lovingly crafted album and physical product that tells the story of Captain Gregory and the S.S. Bungalow's trek across the Atlantic Ocean to find the Lullaby Islands and the treasure found there.

Voice actor Kevin Barbare narrates the story, which is filled with enough dramatic plot turns, gentle good humor, atmospheric sound effects, and occasional Princess Bride-style meta-commentary to keep the target audience hooked and any adults tuned in amused.  The chamber pop-folk, featuring the occasional stringed instrument, horns, and pedal steel, runs the gamut from peppy to slow as befitting the story's twists and turns (sometimes in the same song, as in "Life Is Good."  "Follow the Albatross" sounds like it could have been culled from an Uncle Tupelo album.  One song, "Aquinas," commemorating a long-loved pet, is particularly sweet and moving in a way few kindie songs are.  While the songs are meant to serve a story, speaking as someone who primarily listened to the songs alone, they stand up well on their own.

The album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9.  The story version of the album is nearly 75 minutes long; a second disk featuring only the song tracks clocks in at about 32 minutes.  (You can listen to the whole thing here.)  The physical version, featuring Ward Jenkins' illustrations, is solidly packaged -- for multiple reasons, the CD would make a lovely gift.  (I have no doubt that if they ever chose to go the vinyl route, that would look - and sound - splendid as well.)

The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow was clearly a labor of love, with a fine attention to detail.  I would love to see one of those multinational entertainment conglomerates figure out how to spread this far and wide, though I know that's unlikely.  Instead, we'll just have to hope that Big World enjoyed this labor of love enough to make them want to attempt another.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I was given a copy for possible review.