Review: Can You Canoe? - The Okee Dokee Brothers

I know, I already reviewed the album for NPR.  But it's always good to get a few more words in.

***

It could have been -- it should have been -- a gimmick.  The Okee Dokee Brothers, the Minneapolis duo of Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing, heading down the Mississippi River in a canoe for a month, just the two of them, with the goal of producing an album's worth of river/exploration songs by journey's end.

But the resulting album, Can You Canoe?, exceeds all expectations in its breadth and scope, its heart and humor.  Their take on the traditional "Haul Away Joe," featuring The Band's Garth Hudson, tempts me to pull out every synonym for "joyful" in my thesaurus -- boisterous, rousing, or, perhaps most appropriately given the nautical theme of the album, buoyant.

In its boisterousness, "Haul Away Joe" is probably more the exception than the rule on the album, with songs tending more toward the contemplative, such as "Thousand Star Hotel," or "Small and Simple," featuring Elizabeth Mitchell.  The opening title track is the gentle invitation to exploration that serves as the throughline of the album.  What happens on the river doesn't stay on the river -- it sticks with you for a long time.  And it's not so much the big things as it is the small, such as the animals and bugs (see "The Bullfrog Opera" and "Rosita").  And while there's certainly a time and place for solitude in nature, one often needs companions to make that exploration work, a theme emphasized by "Haul Away Joe" and "Along for the Ride," which features Rachel Loshak.  Producer Dean Jones does a nice job directing traffic and filling out the Brothers' Americana sound.

Justin and Joe didn't actually canoe down the river by themselves -- they had a couple other folks along helping out and filming a DVD with interviews and music videos packaged with the CD.  There's nothing essential about the DVD -- if for whatever reason you prefer the digital mp3s, you and your family can probably get along with out it -- but it's certainly a step above most bonus DVDs.  (Most of the footage is now available on the band's YouTube channel.)

The album is most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9, but the album approaches Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell territory in terms of its being truly suitable for all ages.  Can You Canoe? is wide-eyed in the best sense, and easily one of the best kids albums of the year.  Highly recommended.

Video: "Blue Clouds" - Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower

It's not easy for a songwriter to stand out on an album with covers of songs written by Bill Withers and David Bowie among others, but on "Blue Clouds," the title track from her new album out today, Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower give the lullaby her husband Daniel Littleton wrote for their daughter a gorgeous reading that makes it possibly the most indelible song on the album.

That's really all the excuse you need to watch this video.

Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower - "Blue Clouds" [YouTube]

How I Got Here - Michael Rachap (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road)

This morning's entry is a two-fer: not only is it the latest "How I Got Here" entry featuring kindie musicians talking about albums that influenced them as musicians, but it's also a world premiere video.  That's right, Michael Rachap, the mastermind behind the wonderful Readeez series of videos (they're not just sing-alongs, they're read-alongs, too), offers up his thoughts on Elton John's classic double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and offers up his latest Readee, "Haircut" (perfect for the newly shorn or long-unshorn).  Check that new video out at the end of the essay.  And for the rest of his Readeez, check out the Readeez Digital 2.0 Bundle.

 

At this point, you're probably saying, "j-j-j-j-j-just get on with it," so without further ado...

 

*****

 

I was ten years old when Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came along and rocked my pre-pubescent world. Today, nearly four decades and countless spins later, it's still among my greatest sources of inspiration and musical pleasure.

 

Though this lavish, over-the-top double album is credited to Elton John, it is decidedly a team effort: musicians, lyricist, producer, engineers, art directors, illustrators and photographers, all at the top of their games.

 

The record is nothing if not ambitious. Side One opens with the maximalist "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding." (Honestly, who kicks off their album with a funeral?) But unlike other early-70s Big Important Rock Songs ("American Pie," "Roundabout," "Stairway to Heaven"), "Funeral" doesn't supply a clean, conflict-resolving ending. Instead, when genius producer Gus Dudgeon finally draws the curtain and fades out at the 11:08 mark, the band is rocking ever harder, approaching Maximum Warp, threatening to leave the galaxy. 

 

I like to think that in some alternate universe somewhere, Elton and the boys are still playing the coda to "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," thrilling an arena filled with lucky aliens and/or angels.

 

*

 

My first crush on this album was most likely for "Bennie And The Jets," a big ol' hunk of ear candy if ever there was one. And of course the title track went on to become a soft-rock standard (and a staple of my college summer-job lounge act). The piano player in me also adored (and copied) Elton's technique on keyboard-driven songs like "Grey Seal" and "Harmony." 

 

 

In fact, this 17-track opus tramples all sorts of genre boundaries. There's glam. There's synth-heavy prog-rock. There's '70s singer-songwriter balladry, retro '50s 3-chord boogie—plus that "Other" category Elton and Bernie seemed to specialize in ("All The Girls Love Alice"—ehrm…okay).

 

Then there's the sublime "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting," which rocks as hard as anything AC/DC ever did.  

 

*

 

Beyond its many musical lessons, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road's biggest impact on my creative future may have been visual. The LP's tri-fold jacket delivered all the lyrics, decorated—you might even say "illuminated"—with stylish multicolor typography and superb illustrations. In retrospect, this "words-plus-music-plus-pictures" formula seems to be what I landed on as the foundation for Readeez.

 

Yes indeed, friends: This isn't just a double album—it's more like an album squared. To be fair, it does harbor a few clunkers. There's also some misogyny, and plentiful Adult Themes. Nearly all of which went right over my ten-year-old head. 

 

Four sides of Elton & Bernie, plus Nigel Olsson, Dee Murray, Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper, masterfully written, played and produced, wrapped up in a dazzling, lapidary package. 

 

I can't recall such a yummy aural/visual combo, before or since.

 

Not for nothing did Rolling Stone rank Goodbye Yellow Brick Road among its top 100 Albums of All Time.

 

Me personally, I'd say "Top Five."

 

******

 

And here it is, the premiere of the latest Readee, "Haircut!"

 

 

[Photo credit: Courtesy of Readeez]

Introducing Z7: 7 Artists, 7 Songs, 7 Days. Lucky You.

I've been pondering how to improve the service I provide to you, dear reader, and like a bolt out of the blue, it hit me.  What you want, dear reader, is really good music for the whole family, delivered with just a click or two to your computer.  Oh, yes, make it free, please.

Done.

Introducing Z7, a set of seven songs from seven just-released or soon-to-be-released albums.  All the songs are top-notch, and the albums they come from are going to appeal to a lot of you as well.  What's more, these are exclusive downloads -- you won't be able to download them for free anywhere else during the seven days they're available.

Wait.  What do you mean, "seven days they're available."

Well, you didn't think they'd be free 'til the end of time, did you?  No, you've got exactly seven days to download the tracks before the files go away.

OK, how awesome are these tracks?

This awesome:

The Board of Education - "I'm Not Here Right Now"
Doctor Noize - "Noun Town" from Grammaropolis
Todd McHatton - "So Nice to Meetcha"
Elizabeth Mitchell - "Blue Clouds"
Elena Moon Park - "Poong Nyun Ga"
David Tobocman - "Escalator"
Vered - "Hands in My Mouth"

You're right, that is awesome.  Sign me up.

Well, I can't do that... but you can.  Simply sign up for the Zooglobble newsletter and if you do so by next Wednesday morning (October 24th), I'll make sure you get the links for this most recent offering.  And even if you stumble upon this after the 24th, sign up anyway -- November's offering is almost set!

Thanks to the artists for participating and to you for signing up.

Video: "Miss Elephant's Gerald" - The Pop Ups

I am not a huge Halloween fan, and so I'll be upfront and say that I'm not gonna feature too many Halloween-related tracks here.  (At least, I'm sayin' that now.)  So when I say that the new "Halloween" track from puppet/kindie (kindie/puppet?) band The Pop Ups, "Miss Elephant's Gerald," isn't very Halloween-y, that's actually a good thing from my perspective.

It does swing, however.

(Below the video is a Bandcamp widget from which you can purchase the track -- also available on iTunes.)

The Pop Ups - "Miss Elephant's Gerald" [YouTube]

Monday Morning Smile: Candela y Los Supremos - "El Desalojo del Piojo"

I've featured the work of Candela y Los Supremos here on the site before, but I will be honest that it is hard for me to get past the language barrier -- singing in nothing but Spanish (or perhaps Portugese) makes it difficult for me to properly evaluate.

The music is infectious pop, though, so I'm gonna post this video, the leadoff single from the band's brand new album Animaladas (out tomorrow, Oct. 16, in Spain, and a week later worldwide, I believe).  It's for the song, "El Desalojo del Piojo," which roughly translates to "The Eviction of the Louse."  That translation makes the constant hair-mussing of 7-year-old Candela make a lot more sense.

If you want to listen to more, PlayGround has you covered.

Candela y Los Supremos - "El Desalojo del Piojo" [YouTube]