Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Booking the Woods With the Okee Dokee Brothers

I've found myself up the river again without a paddle. Luckily the Okee Dokee Brothers have accompanied me, bringing a guitar and banjo. Where there's music, there's light. And where there's light, there's hope. The Okee Dokee Brothers hope that their first book, CAN YOU CANOE? AND OTHER ADVENTURE SONGS, will encourage kids to try spending time in the great outdoors, or investigating the Old West, or perhaps go camping (even if it's only in their backyards).

Their bio reads like a Mark Twain short story – Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing were Denver, Colorado friends from childhood. They built a passion for all things off the grid (hiking, swimming, rafting, exploring the trails through the Rocky Mountains) and eventually used their talents to team up and become Grammy Award-winning musicians. Three CDs into their journey, they are adding author to their hyphenates, with able-bodied illustrations by Brandon Reese.

Each of the 12 tales on CAN YOU CANOE? (published by Sterling Children's Books) is a selection from one of the Brothers' CDs. "Saddle Up" and "The Great Divide" represent this year's collection, SADDLE UP. Every two-page spread is lushly drawn with local flora and fauna, as Joe and Justin make their way across the plains and up the road less taken. While I missed the colorful narration (i.e., lyrics) that too often are not part of a CD's packaging, CAN YOU CANOE? is all that and more – a dozen songs, all lyrically displayed, with drawings to hold the interest of the kids who don't want to sing along (or be gently coerced into learning how to read).

As a suburban dad, I give myself "outdoor points" for showing my five-year-old how to light our propane grill after playing catch in the backyard. But the Okee Dokee Brothers are the real deal. To paraphrase a minor character in The Blues Brothers, they can play country AND western music. Kindie über-producer Dean Jones helps them deliver a warm and welcome message with arrangements that play down technology in favor of fiddles, organs, and an upright bass.

Malcolm Gladwell declared that you need 10,000 hours of practice before you call yourself an expert. I think it's a safe bet that Joe and Justin have each spent eight solid weeks outdoors in their lifetimes. And the Brothers' music shares their love of nature and all things rustic, from "Black Bear Mama" to "The Bullfrog Opera." CAN YOU CANOE? is not an instructional manual but it might as well be one. It's a primer for jamborees and folklore (such as the jackalope). You can lead a child to water but you can't make him drink. But you can lead a child to the Okee Dokee Brothers and ask him to sing. 

CAN YOU CANOE? AND OTHER ADVENTURE SONGS is available from the Okee Dokee Brothers' web site, Sterling Children's Books, and Amazon.

Here is the video for their song, "Saddle Up," which is also the title track of their latest CD/DVD:

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