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Dadnabbit Interview: Morgan Taylor, a.k.a. Gustafer Yellowgold

There’s never any shortage of cartoon characters in family entertainment, but few of them possess the unusual, undeniable appeal of Gustafer Yellowgold, the friendly, bug-eyed alien from the sun who arrived on Earth five years ago and has quickly achieved kindie rock star status. With his latest adventure, Gustafer Yellowgold’s Infinity Sock, coming out on March 1, we decided now would be the perfect time for a chat with his creator: musician and illustrator Morgan Taylor.

So let’s talk about Infinity Sock.

Yeah! What’s going on with it? (Laughs)

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about the Gustafer records is that they’re not only mellow — as you often point out — but that they’re also gentle, which makes a big difference, I think. And I also appreciate the fact that they don’t pander musically, either to kids or to parents.

I don’t — yeah, I don’t think that does any good, to pander. It’s not in my nature — I’m not even thinking about whether I’m doing it or not. Maybe I sensed that kind of thing in music as a kid, so I try and avoid it now.

I know you’ve said that you spent a lot of time listening to AM radio when you were a kid, and that influence is pretty apparent in your work. But do you remember listening to any music geared specifically to kids?

Yeah, I actually did, and the older my son gets, the more my memories of it resurface. I had a lot of the old book-and-record combos from Disney, like Br’er Rabbit and Snow White, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. And the music from Sesame Street and The Electric Company, of course. There was a lot of great music on those shows. Continue reading

DVD Review: “It’s a…Farmer Jason!”

farmerjasonMaking the jump from grown-up rock to children’s music is all the rage now, but Farmer Jason — a.k.a. Jason Ringenberg, the erstwhile leader of Jason & the Scorchers — has been doing it longer than most; he made his first foray into the kid-pop market in 2003 with A Day at the Farm with Farmer Jason, and since then, he’s divided his time between post-Scorchers solo records (such as 2004′s Empire Builders) and appearances as his agriculturally inclined alter ego, who has been rocking the junior set in concert and a local access PBS series, bits of which have been repurposed for his new DVD, It’s a…Farmer Jason!

Given its humble origins, the DVD is about as endearingly low-budget as you might expect, despite a NASCAR-type block of corporate logos emblazoned on the back of the case. Nothing too flashy, just Farmer Jason kicking it up with bunches of his little fans (as well as a handful of special guests, including Webb Wilder, Todd Snider, and ex-Scorcher Warner E. Hodges). For kids raised on overcaffienated Nickelodeon fare, I suppose It’s a…Farmer Jason! might seem a little too slow, but that speaks to a defect in current children’s programming trends, not a weakness in the DVD; Ringenberg is an enormously appealing host, and the songs — which include titles like “Punk Rock Skunk,” “Ode to a Toad,” “Potato Rap,” and “The Tractor Goes Chug Chug Chug” — are tons of instantly memorable fun. It’s simple, sweet, and positive — in other words, everything you want in entertainment for your young ones. Check out samples and buy the DVD (for the low, low price of $16.75) at Farmer Jason’s official site

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CD/Book Review: Trout Fishing in America, “My Name Is Chicken Joe”

Trout Fishing in America – My Name Is Chicken Joe (2009, Secret Mountain)
purchase this book/CD/DVD (Amazon)

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 St├ęphane 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.

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