Is there anything more tedious than when your kids want to watch the same thing or listen to the same music over and over and over? I know I put my poor parents through it (I’m sure they heard more Weird Al than they ever wanted to) and my own brood are content to listen to the same album in the van for weeks on end.
Fortunately for the Wife and I, our 3-year-old loves The Okee Dokee Brothers. In fact, MeToo refers to them as, “my Okee Dokees.”
The Okee Dokee Brothers, Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing (no, they aren’t really brothers and, yes, I feel lied to as well), can be found in the “Family-Friendly, Folksy/Bluegrass-esque” section of your local record store. I wouldn’t exactly consider their work “kid’s music” because, to me, that conjures up nursery rhymes, Sesame Street, and Disney soundtracks. I tend to describe their songs as being similar to what Kermit the Frog used to sing before he made it big in Hollywood.
In addition to being musicians, Joe and Justin have a great love of the outdoors and this is reflected in their “Adventure Album Series.” What drew our attention, even before we heard their music, was back in 2011 when the Wife learned about their then-upcoming album Can You Canoe. The Okee Dokee Brothers had composed that album while on a month-long canoe trip down the Mississippi. Just the idea of that seemed so rich with authenticity and soul that we sough out the title track, bought the album as soon as it was released, and have been fans ever since.
You see, I grew up in a small Tennessee town, and even though I do not consider myself an outdoorsy person, I’ve done a fair bit of hiking, camping, and canoeing. The songs on Can You Canoe really do feel (to me) like they were thought up while on the river — even the ones that don’t have anything to do with canoeing.
The Okee Dokee Brothers followed it up with a month-long trek along the Appalachian Trail which resulted in Through the Woods. As it happens, my brothers, my father, and I once spent a few days hiking and camping along the Appalachian Trail, so I can give Joe and Justin’s second Adventure Album my stamp of authenticity as well. (The song “Lighten Your Load” felt particularly spot-on.) If Can You Canoe was about the fun and trials of camping or life on the river, Through the Woods contemplates the simplicity and closeness to nature of a secluded life in Appalachia. (The album’s closer, “Baby Mine,” is MeToo’s most-requested lullaby. Fortunately for me, Joe and Justin put their lyrics up on the web.)
Their third Adventure Album, Saddle Up, just released this month and was inspired by a sojourn out West. It’s full of tall tales, Native American legends, cowboys and cowgirls, cows, relationships-as-geography, and at least two different songs about horses. It’s definitely twangier than their other works, leaning a bit towards the classic Country & Western sound, but that’s not a bad thing at all.
So does Saddle Up measure up? How does the family like it? Well, it’s my favorite kind of music: new music that I haven’t heard a thousand times in a row before. MeToo usually requests it whenever we’re in the car (though occasionally she prefers “my old Okee Dokees”) and RU can already sing about half of “Don’t Fence Me In.” It’s not my favorite Okee Dokee Brothers album but its in the same ballpark as the others; it’s jaunty and fun and easy to listen to. I’d recommend Saddle Up as easily as I would Can You Canoe or Into the Woods.
On a closing note, we went to see the Okee Dokee Brothers play back in October (it was, I believe, MeToo’s first live concert). It was a wonderfully good time, very family-friendly, and totally worth the three-hour drive it took for us to get there. (Maybe if more people flock to their venues they will see the value of extending their tours to areas closer to where I live. So get out there and check ‘em out!)
Honestly, I quite like their music and am glad my kids give me an excuse to listen to them. If you want to give them a try yourself, the Okee Dokee Brothers have some videos on their website, and the journeys they undertook for Can You Canoe and Into the Woods are chronicled in two videos available on Netflix.