At first glance, this package may seem a bit contrived, and one could imagine the stilted, forced music that might result from such a thematic concept. But no! The Okee Dokee Brothers transcend expectations as they tell their story (in an elliptical way) about traveling down the Mississippi River. Can You Canoe? is leagues ahead of anything they've done before, and there are a couple of reasons why. First, kids' music producer extraordinaire Dean Jones brings out the best performances of everyone involved (including The Band's Garth Hudson, Gustafer Yellowgold's Rachel Loshak and Morgan Taylor, and kids' music star Elizabeth Mitchell) to create a cohesive sound. Second, The Okee Dokee Brothers keep their songs free of any lyrical or thematic specificities that might date the tune or paint itself into a corner. Can You Canoe? isn't merely a "kids' album;" this is truly family music at its best.
The Okee Dokee Brothers (Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander) have been making folk music and Americana music for families since 2008 when they released their debut Kids with Beards. This Minnesota-based duo released both Take It Outside and the Spanish language Excelente Fabuloso! in 2010, and Can You Canoe? in 2012. Stop by The Okee Dokee Brothers' official website and check out one of their many live performance and creative videos.
The Music of Can You Canoe?
The full title of this album - Can You Canoe? A Mississippi River Adventure Album - might lead you to believe that this is a literal retelling of the sights and sounds The Okee Dokee Brothers encountered on a boating expedition. What this is, though, is an album of songs about the emotional aspect of adventure, including the friendship, feelings, joys, and wonderment that come with canoeing down the Mississippi River with a close pal. The album kicks off with the title track, a laid-back country ode to friendship that will remind you of classic Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The Brothers then add their own lyrics to a rowdy version of the traditional "Haul Away Joe," name dropping a few of the places one might pass on a trip down the Mississip' as The Band's Garth Hudson joins in with accordion. The jokey Vaudeville ditty "Mr. & Mrs. Sippy" will provide a few chuckles, while campers equate the sights and sounds of the big city with those of the woods while listening to the slinky, "Minnie the Moocher"-like "The Bullfrog Opera," with vocal help from Morgan Taylor. Percussion and acoustic guitars then help describe a love/hate relationship with "Rosita" the mosquito. Another jaunty Vaudeville-flavored ditty enthusiastically extolls the joys of living in a "Campin' Tent," while the music of the next song quietly chugs down the tracks to "Memphis Town."
More Music from Can You Canoe?
If The Band were to put out a single today it would sound like "Along for the Ride," especially as the tune lopes into a half-time beat during the chorus, where Rachel Loshak joins in with some nice harmonies. "Muddy River" pairs some low-key, swampy funk via The Meters and Dr. John with a little bluegrass to describe the joys and disappointments of fishing. The rowdy cajun country of "The Boatman's Dance" is followed by a sweet and gentle version of the famous American folk song "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O." Then "Thousand Star Hotel," another tune worthy of comparisons to The Band, beautifully and majestically describes the wonders of outdoor living. A blast of bluegrass accompanies a "Brother" who assures his good buddy that they can weather the storms of life together, while the brief lullaby "Small and Simple" is perfectly suited for kids' music star Elizabeth Mitchell's sweet, whispery voice. The journey of Can You Canoe? ends with "Roll On River," a song whose melody borrows heavily from "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," giving this closing tune a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band feel with all performers joining in and singing. And dig the far out final stanza from "Roll on River:" "When I come to my final ocean, I know this thought will keep me warm; All the water in this whole world never dies, it just changes form." Right on.
Sincerity and originality are hard-found characteristics in the music world, including (and especially) music for kids and families. Those traits are found in abundance here on The Okee Dokee Brothers' Can You Canoe?, and interestingly enough the guest stars invited to participate (Garth Hudson of The Band, Morgan Taylor and Rachel Loshak of Gustafer Yellowgold) overflow with those traits, as well. Definitely one of the best kids' music CDs of 2012. Oh, and an added bonus of buying the physical CD is that you get a DVD of The Brothers' excursion down the Mighty Mississip'!
Released May 15, 2012; Okee Dokee Music
- "Can You Canoe?"
- "Haul Away Joe"
- "Mr. & Mrs. Sippy"
- "The Bullfrog Opera"
- "Campin' Tent"
- "Memphis Town"
- "Along for the Ride"
- "Muddy River"
- "The Boatman's Dance"
- "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O"
- "Thousand Star Hotel"
- "Small and Simple"
- "Roll on River"