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Dean Jones - Rock Paper Scissors

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kids music
Courtesy Dean Jones Music
How do you follow up one of the best lullaby/quiet time albums of the past decade? You create a rowdy, cutting edge collection of songs that channels everything from Dixieland jazz to prog rock to Zen kōans. Dean Jones' solo sequel to 2007's critically-acclaimed Napper's Delight is a rambunctious, warm, funny, and unique bunch of songs that features The Felice Brothers, a rough-'round-the-edges Americana band from the Catskills. Rock Paper Scissors ends up being one of the best kids' music albums of 2010.

The Artist

Dean Jones has been the go-to guy in the kids' band Dog On Fleas for over 10 years now. He and his Hudson Valley compadres John Hughes, Chris Cullo, and (formerly) David Levine have released five CDs, and Jones himself has put out two solo albums of family fun. Jones wears several musical hats, including stints in the bands Uncle Buckle, Sonando, The Big Sky Ensemble, Arm of the Sea Theatre, Earmight (who appear on Rock Paper Scissors), and the Hudson River Playback Theatre. He has also become an acclaimed producer, helping other musicians lay down tracks at No Parking Studio, his Rosendale, New York recording headquarters.

The Music

"Hail! Hail! The Gang's All Here!" rambunctiously sets the stage for a fistful of rip-roaring tunes, including the swaying, tankard-hoisting "Isthmus Be the Pirate Waltz;" the whip-crackin' "Roncando," an Ennio Morricone tribute to snoring (featuring the vocals of fellow Hudson Valley kindie rocker Uncle Rock); and what could only be described as The Memphis Horns backing The Band on "Frenzy," an open invitation to all kids to grab up a musical instrument and joint right in.

Now, this burst of musical exuberance doesn't mean Jones completely abandoned his musical past or his more subdued songwriting style. Several of the songs on Rock Paper Scissors are reminiscent of classic Dog On Fleas ditties, like the silly, Tin Pan Alley-inspired "Butterfingers," the Cajun-flavored dough infatuation ditty "Mama Said No," and another Band-like tune, the shufflin' "Tomorrow."

Jones utilizes a nifty bayou rhythm for "Lefty Loosey/Righty Tighty," (dig the vocal nod to the "Your Move" section of Yes' "I've Seen All Good People"). And fans of Jones' wordplay will enjoy the friendship allegory shuffle "Flat Tire," which begins "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, fillin' the gutter with my own bike."

More Music

A few of the quieter tunes on Rock Paper Scissors recall Jones' 2007 lullaby album Napper's Delight. The tender sing-along "Sing Like a Sparrow" features the rough-hewn voices of The Felice Brothers, and the brushed snare, almost jazzy "Surprise" starts off like Neil Young's "Harvest Moon," but quickly throws in some tasty chord changes. The word-filled "Lucky," backed by some subdued bluegrass, recalls Dr. Seuss' Fox in Sox," while the intimate "Baby in My Pocket" most emulates the bedtime songs on Napper's Delight. "The Littlest Song" closes out Rock Paper Scissors with a brief duet between Jones and daugher Rylie Ellis.

Some of my favorites on Rock Paper Scissors, though, are the more exciting and risk-taking arrangements, and that's saying something for the perpetually inventive Dean Jones. The title track, a simple description of the popular game, features the vocals of Lily McNamara, backed by music that sounds like no less than Frank Zappa taking up a musical residency in New Orleans. "Throw On the Charm" is propelled by frantic percussion, a tin whistle, and nonsensical nursery rhyme lyrics. The ominous "Poison Ivy" showcases Jones' trombone acumen, and his re-reading of the traditional "Miss Mary Jane" is powered by a flurry of percussion that utilizes, I think, everything in the kitchen including the sink.

The Verdict

One of the worst things that can happen on an album that draws from a variety of musical sources is that the CD ends up sounding like a thrown-together collection of random artists and bands. Jones' production and composing chops, though, skillfully conquer this common mistake, giving Rock Paper Scissors a unified, organic sound, like a back porch sing along taken to the next level. Definitely some of the best kids' music of 2010.

Released November 4, 2009; Dean Jones Music

Track Listing

  1. "Hail! Hail! The Gang's All Here!"
  2. "Rock Paper Scissors"
  3. "Butterfingers"
  4. "Sing Like a Sparrow"
  5. "Mama Said No"
  6. "Surprise"
  7. "Roncando"
  8. "Throw on the Charm"
  9. "Poison Ivy"
  10. "Isthmus be the Pirate Waltz"
  11. "Lucky"
  12. "Flat Tire"
  13. "Frenzy"
  14. "Miss Mary Jane"
  15. "Baby in My Pocket"
  16. "Lefty Loosey/Righty Tighty"
  17. "Tomorrow"
  18. "The Littlest Song"

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