Trout Fishing in America celebrates its 30th anniversary this year — and the fact that you most likely didn’t know that, but have never heard a lick of the roots duo’s music, explains why they won’t be commemorating the occasion with a lavish boxed set, sold-out arena tour, or all-star tribute record. They will, however, be taking a fond look back at some of the most popular songs from their multiple forays into kids’ music with My Name Is Chicken Joe, a beautifully made ersatz best-of that sets their song “Chicken Joe” alongside some eye-catching illustrations from artist Stéphane Jorisch to create a handsome, albeit plot-free, book to go along with the 11-track CD. And if that isn’t enough to make you whip out your wallet, there’s also a DVD containing a “Chicken Joe” music video of sorts.
If you’re a member of the Dirty Linen crowd, you’re no doubt already very familiar with Trout Fishing in America, but if you aren’t yet among the enlightened, My Name Is Chicken Joe functions as a perfect gateway into their children’s music. Though it cherry-picks old favorites from the catalog, Joe feels as cohesive as a really well-made new album. The songs are all as wonderful as you’d expect from a band that’s earned four Grammy nominations, all grounded solidly in deceptively simple folk arrangements and topped off with gentle, positive messages about kindness, personal identity, friendship, and family. (There are a couple of detours into mildly negative territory with “Why I Pack My Lunch” and “Boiled Okra and Spinach,” but they’re about having to choke down the food your parents pick for you, and who can’t sympathize with that?)
A lot of kids’ records claim to contain music that parents can enjoy even when their children aren’t around, but My Name Is Chicken Joe really is that kind of album. Songs like “My Best Day,” “Something Sweet,” and “Count on Me” are worth having in your collection no matter how old you are. If you’re any kind of fan of roots music — and I’m talking stripped-down bluegrass stuff as well as AAA favorites like John Hiatt — or you know kids who might be, purchase this set without fear the next time a birthday or other special occasion rolls around.