Oh yeah, it’s time for another Randy Kaplan release! Randy is a regular listen at our house and his latest release, “Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie,” has been played so much that we have now started referring to him on a first name basis. As in, “I want Randy, Mom!”
Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie, recently awarded a 2012 Gold Award from NAPPA (National Parenting Publications Award) and included in People Magazine’s “8 Cool Kids’ Albums Now!” is Randy’s fourth not-JUST-for-kids release and probably our favorite to date. The album is a period piece of sorts in which Randy brings us the blues! And boy am I a sucker for the blues. On this album we are taken on a journey through the great musical heritage of country blues and ragtime from the 1920s, 30s and 40s and actually taught a thing or two about the masters who made up the genre. Some of the most mysterious and wildly talented bluesmen and women are covered here from the likes of Robert Johnson, one of the most influential artists of his time to Muddy Waters, Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Bessie Smith and Elizabeth Cotten whose “Freight Train” was covered on Randy’s first kids album, “Five Cent Piece.” So, although Randy has dabbled in the blues before, we now get to experience a full-length celebration of one of the greatest periods of music. And it’s fantastic!
Various segments of the album are introduced by the craggy voice of Lightnin’ Bodkins, a blues historian extraordinaire who got his blues name because he was a lightning fast knitter back in his day (emeritus president of the Mississippi Mitten Guild, to be exact). Lightnin’ not only provides tidbits of history and sources for each song that Randy covers on the album (both in-between songs and throughout the liner notes), but also participates in some comedic interplay as he tries to cajole Randy into having a blues name for himself. Lightnin’ gets pretty crafty as he strings together hilarious combinations based on things like pools (“Chlorine Kaplan”), breakfast food (“Papa Waffle Kaplan”) and even goes as far as creating a formula based on ailments + fruit + a president of the United States to produce Chicken Pox Kiwi Cleveland, for example.
Randy’s talents lie within his ability to recognize other artists’ talents and successfully blend them together with his own. On Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie, the sound of the original songs is mainly intact with the addition of Randy’s masterful storytelling, as well as, accompanying instruments such as drums, bass, trombone, tuba, banjo, mandolin and even a washboard, giving the songs more depth and in some cases a jazzy New Orleans type of feel. Additionally, kids play an integral part in bringing some of these songs to life, adding some serious laugh out loud moments as they interject, inquire, make irrational demands, shake their tushes and even yodel along with Randy. There is even an inquisition in the song “In A Timeout Now” in which a girl from the chorus challenges Randy on whether timeouts existed when he was a kid by asking “aren’t you being anachronistic?” It’s basically an example of Randy’s approach to making kids music. He plays it straight, assuming kids are capable of understanding a lot more than we might expect.
Opening the album is a fiery Robert Johnson ragtime number which Em refers to as “the tasty song.” “They’re Red Hot” is a fast paced ragtime jig with a catchy chorus “Hot Tamales and They’re Red Hot” that will get you and your family up and moving as if you just ate some hot tamales.
There are several songs about bullies which provide enough of a message to kids about the consequences of being mean. “In A Time Out Now,” adapted from Jimmie Rodgers’ “In The Jailhouse Now,” does an excellent job of drawing a parallel between timeouts and being in jail. The song features a troublemaker named Carl who is constantly trailed by his Mom and consequently gets “throwed in the can” for tormenting Randy and his friends. “You’ve Been a Good Ole Wagon”, a Bessie Smith tune, features some hubris on Randy’s part as his 10-year old self defends his right to help a girl in his class with her math homework by referring to a bully as a metaphorical wagon who is past his prime (which was his single digit years). As a result, the bully starts to fake cry and, as Randy says “he let out a counterfeit hoax of a howl and a dissembling invention of attention.” And then there is a Blind Blake inspired tune called “That Will Never Happen No More” featuring Denise, a childhood tormentor whom Randy was in elementary school and sleepaway camp with. In this song, Denise comes up with ways to terrorize Randy including giving him lice and dropping a bowling ball on his big toe.
“Green Green Rocky Road” is a sweet, sweet Dave Van Ronk inspired song in which Randy asks the chorus of kids who they love. As Randy sings “Green Green Rocky Road/ promenade in green/ tell me who you love/ tell me who you love,” the kids reply with things like their dog, Dad, brother, pet bird, and even piano teacher. It’s a perfect song to engage in with your kids and what better topic to discuss than those you love.
Finally, “Black Mountain Blues” is a creative song about a land where babies cry grape juice tears and it’s illegal for cats to sharpen their nails. I happen to personally know two cats who wouldn’t live a free life if they found themselves on Black Mountain, ahem. Kids are also able to make irrational demands and are prompted to dole them out at the end of the song and they gladly do with things like wearing shorts in the snow and even having the power to have all the powers in the world.
Randy Kaplan has made quite a name for himself in the kindie music scene. With his serious storytelling chops and musicianship, he has won over both kids and adults alike. In my mind, Randy is a pioneer who is able to tackle a wide range of styles from broadway to blues underscoring the fact that he is one of the most versatile and creative voices in kids music today.
Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie is being released by MyKaZoo Music and runs for about 1 hour containing 17 songs with 7 segments featuring Lightnin’ Bodkins. The CD contains 20 colorful pages of liner notes giving kids more information on what they are listening to, and features Randy posing as some of the great bluesman he pays tribute to, creating a pleasing visual element to tie it all together.
I could totally see this as a Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 series but I will gladly take the full-length of Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie for now. Very highly recommended and appropriate for kids ages 3-10, but adults may just find themselves reaching for a listen without their kids.
As the almost eponymous title track suggests, listening to this is good for your health and will put a spring in your step.
Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this album for review.