I don’t got the blues. I don’t know the blues.
I’ve heard some from a house band in a Beale Street bar. I’ve walked past the B.B. King’s in NYC. That about sums up the extent of my American roots education. So yeah, I had some blues bandwidth.
There are few people in the kid’s music biz I like more — both personally and musically — than Randy Kaplan. He is a sweet and funny dude on and off record, plus he’s a treasure trove of smarts AND an avid sports fan. Kinda the complete package, minus hair. And I forgive him for his University of Michigan allegiance. His not-just-for-kids albums to this point have been painted with equal parts of all those portions of his personality, minus the sports. And still without hair. They are each still an important part of my family’s musical life.
Longtime fans of the L.A. singer-songwriter should know that there are no “No Nothings”, “Ladybugs Without Spots”, and not a single “Shampoo Me” on Kaplan’s newest CD, an ambitious re-interpretation of dusty country blues, folk, and ragtime songs. But you’d be remiss to dismiss this humorous and thoughtful album because it isn’t exactly like his previous discs. What you’ll discover is that by going back to the foundation of American music, you will hear the foundation of Randy Kaplan’s kindie classics.
Sure, you can skip past Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie and head straight to the Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, and Bessie Smith originals with your little kids — I’ve participated in that kind of argument before. Taking nothing away from Kaplan (I’m sure he’d admit the same), you will get better musicianship if not quality of recording, but the other trade off is that your young children won’t have nearly as much fun, won’t laugh as hard (or at all), and won’t have their interest piqued as genuinely (they may play act for your benefit, but that’s about it).
Randy Kaplan is no stranger to the material of the greats. He’s reworked Dylan, after all, as well as some legendary Broadway show tunes, each time making them his own whether playing it straight (“Over The Rainbow”) or Randy-izing them (“I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin'”). But the troubadour’s greatest strength his is disarming, quick-witted charm sprinkled liberally into and in-between album tracks, and that once again proves true on Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie.
Watch the video for “Ice Cream Man Rag” by Randy Kaplan:
To tell the story of the key players and the music itself, Kaplan plays two roles on the record. He is himself, of course, and the fictional ancient blues man Lightnin’ Bodkins who comes in and out, conversating with Randy about an authentic blues nickname (hilarious), the original songwriters (informative), and generally adding an air of whimsical, front-porch Wikipedia to the proceedings. The idea works, as evidenced by the Bear and Mouse both leaning in a bit more on those spoken parts than they do for the songs. The curiosity of Mr. Bodkins may fade over repeated listens, but thankfully the time-tested, Randy-ized ditties like the hilarious, metaphorical “Been Old Wagon” and the boy v. girl battle of “That Will Never Happen No More” should have no issue standing up strong for another hundred years or so.
Tune in to the August episode of the OWTK Kid’s Music Monthly Podcast to hear one of the new Randy Kaplan rags, along with 9 other wickedly cool kindie songs. Subscribe now for free to have the pod delivered to your iTunes library bright and early on the 1st of every month (plus the occasional special edition episode, like Back 2 School one!)
*OWTK received a copy of Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie for review consideration. The opinions expressed above are honest and unbiased, as always.