Best New Children's Music 2012 / OWTK Kindie Album Reviews

The Okee Dokee Brothers – Can You Canoe? Kid’s CD Review

**You heard the review on NPR’s All Things Considered, now read my take on The Okee Dokee Brothers’ Can You Canoe?**

THE OKEE DOKEE BROTHERS CAN YOU CANOE?

One’s relationship with their music collection is about as personal as it gets.  I’m able to mark transformative moments in my life through not just song, but through album and artist.  I’m not alone in this.  Mine is the story of any passionate music fan.  The CDs in my player, and later the MP3s in my ears, are much more than soundtrack, they are the notches in the door frame reflecting my growth as a man.

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I remember exactly where I was (in my bedroom at my parent’s house) and precisely what I was doing (sitting cross-legged on gray carpeted floor) while transcribing Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” into a letter I’d send, far too dramatically in hindsight, to the girl that broke my heart (repeatedly, as it were).

I’ve logged all the specifics of the moment I unwrapped The Afghan Whigs Gentlemen, THEE album I consider the biggest game changer for me.  I remember who gave it to me for Christmas, and can even still see 17-year-old me writing the band name and album title on my wish list that year, and then later watch as 18-year-old me nervously wanders into a dingy little venue in the not-so-nice part of Trenton, NJ to see the band live for the 1st time.

And I’ll never forget for as long as I live the moment two young bucks from Minnesota performed a song they hadn’t yet recorded, a tune that wouldn’t even be released to the world for six more months.  By the time The Okee Dokee Brothers had played the last note of “Along For The Ride” in Morgan Taylor & Rachel Loshak’s living room, they’d already cemented their place in my musical journey.  And best of all, my oldest daughter was on my lap and her little sister at my feet.  In a way, we were all changed for the better that Autumn afternoon.

And I was reminded that as life gets better, your most cherished moments in time no longer happen to you alone.

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The Okee Dokee Brothers’ “Can You Canoe?”, their new album that contains that aforementioned song, doesn’t merely deserve to be ranked alongside the likes of Dan Zanes’ Grammy Winning Catch That Train! and Justin Roberts’ Pop Fly, but should also get cozy with some of the most beloved American rock-n-roll records of all time.  My copy is nestled between North Hills and Music From Big Pink.

Don’t think for a minute that I’m kidding.

Can You Canoe? is not only the greatest album ever made with families in mind but one of the most marvelous Americana records ever released; regardless of the age range of its intended audience.  I concede that that previous statement may get a chuckle out of you, but I can quell your dismissive snickering by requesting that you to listen intently to The Band’s own Garth Hudson’s playfully limber accordion work on “Haul Away Joe” and to the tastefully aggressive, Griffin Goldsmith (Dawes)-via-Levon Helm (The Band) percussion build up in the middle of the final chorus on “Thousand Star Hotel”.  Then hear the dancing, perfectly placed piano in the opening salvo of (and all throughout) “Campin’ Tent”.  And finally, pay special attention to the supple-yet-subtle, muted trombone that fills so sweetly the humid, swampy air on “Bullfrog Opera”.  I’ve never longed to be surrounded by reeds, wildlife, and mosquitoes more than when listening to this allegorical gem.

All of those instrumental flourishes are professional grade; musicianship and production (by the amazing Dean Jones) so on the mark that even the snarkiest, close-minded asshole of a music critic couldn’t deny the skill on display.  And if he did he’d be a lying, snarky close-minded asshole.  But I digress.

I’d like to now divert your attention to the emotive, highly personal reflections on what it means to be a friend, a spouse, a parent, and a child who is in their relationship(s) for the long haul on the title track, on that startlingly beautiful “Along for the Ride”, the autobiographical “Brother”, and finally on “Roll on River”, the disc’s rousing, spiritual, sing-a-long-in-a-church-choir-way closing number.

The lyrics all over Can You Canoe? are, quite magically, both in the weeds on topic yet vague enough to allow every listener the opportunity to assign himself and those he holds dear to any number of characters included within. These songs are about us, even if we’ve personally never dipped our toes into the muddy Mississippi River, about every single one of us who has ever made a friend, been in love, cared for a child or an elder, or contemplated our own fleeting time on this Earth.  For The Okee Dokee Brothers Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing this is all manifested in their own friendship and their adoration of the outdoors, but that is for them.  You will take something else entirely from “Can You Canoe?” and it will hit you smack dab in the middle of your heart.

The result of all of this is a Mount Rushmore album for families, a gorgeous piece of work inside and out (just wait until you get a load of Brandon Reese’s artwork and layout, and the handsomely shot and edited documentary film of the boys’ journey down the Mississippi that is included in the CD package) that not only validates my assertion that we are living in the Golden Age of Family Music but also proves that there really doesn’t need to be a “kids music” moniker any longer.  Brilliant, poetic music like this can be and should be enjoyed by all-ages.  Period.

I’ve been singing the praises of this album for a while now, to anyone who’d listen, since being sent three of the new songs months ago.  I still get chills when merely thinking of Can You Canoe?, and actually have my emotions moved to happy tears on occasion when listening to it.  Yes indeed, this disc has added a new notch, a new level of music appreciation and humanity in my record book, and in the less-congested books of the Bear & Mouse.  And it will provide equally lovely shared memories for you and your children, happy moments to grasp tightly together until the end of days.  Can You Canoe? is as important in your home as your well-thumbed editions of Goodnight Moon and Where The Wild Things Are, that old Raffi disc you still play for your baby, and your beloved Mary Poppins  and Sound of Music DVDs.  Your family life wouldn’t be the same without those things, right?  Modern kid’s music in general, and “Can You Canoe? most specifically, deserves to be on that pedestal. It is time.

Can You Canoe? isn’t the funniest album ever.  Or the danciest disc to date.  It is not the most educational.  What it is, in short, is the most beautiful, the most eloquent, and absolutely the best album for kids & families ever made.

Your family must own The Okee Dokee Brothers’ Can You Canoe?  I’ve never been so adamant about anything here on OWTK.

*A copy of “Can You Canoe?” was provided to OWTK for review consideration. The opinions expressed above are, as always, honest and unbiased.

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2 Comments

  1. I agree;). It’s hard to say what is better – me listening to “Can You Canoe? on my morning walks or listening to my children belt out “Thousand Star Hotel” over and over while driiving to school. Kid’s music – not just for kids anymore. Good job Okee Dokee Brothers!

  2. “Kid’s music – not just for kids anymore” – wow, you just nailed the should-be slogan for this movement! And how great is the film where we get to peer into the songwriting process for Thousand Star Hotel? My favorite part of the DVD.

joc