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October 08, 2006

Sunday Music: The Backyardigans

In the last three years or so I've been immersed in toddler culture. I've been exposed to Bob, Dora, Elmo, Thomas, Diego, Blue, Franklin, Timothy and all their friends and hangers-on. Most of this stuff is surprisingly good; much better than the condescending crap I remember from my early days. Remember the Care Bears? Most of the other shows you can't remember from that time were just as saccarine and phoney as that.

But in the last year the Backyardigans has been my favourite kids show. And luckily Max and Talia like it too. The premise is very simple. Tyrone, Austin, Tasha, Pablo, and Uniqua are kids whose houses back onto each other. They get together and they play, and their yards are transformed into the jungles of Borneo, or the arctic, or a space ship. The adventures are witty, and not at all preachy. But not in that winking-at-the-parents witty that Sesame Street has degenerated into. And as a bonus there's no pattern recognition sequences, counting drills, or learning the names of colours in Spanish -- just an entertaining story.

And music and dance. The other great thing about the show is the care they put into creating songs. Each show is done in the style of one musical genre. There's been a reggae show, a bossa nova show, a broadway musical show and a zydeco show. I've included five songs here so you can see how well they do it, in the styles of 1920's jazz, big band, roadhouse rock, funk, and old school hip hop. Enjoy, and remember to tune into Treehouse TV to catch the antics of The Backyardigans every day...


August 27, 2006

Sunday music: James McMurtry

A friend of mine has a theory that 'genius' in any kind of artistic endeavour is a result of both the nature of the artist's work and of the audience's response to it. The work of the artist alone isn't enough; it has to be acclaimed and studied and obsessed over to be defined this way. In a way, I understand what he means: that 'genius' cannot really be intrinsic in anything, and can only be claimed when something has made a true impact on an aspect of our culture -- even if it's very small.

But in another way I find the definition disappointing. We live in an age of unimaginable wealth, with an overabundance of leisure time. Tools to create art have never been more affordable, and the means to share it have never been more powerful. Never have so many books been written, paintings painted, and songs been recorded. Most of it is crap, sure, but there are still too many brilliant creators that go mostly unnoticed, and who will die in obscurity.

I've spent a lot of my life looking for musicians that I consider 'geniuses', but who are not appreciated as much as they deserve. It makes me sad that too many people are more interested in the most insignificant sound-fart by the likes of the Beatles or Bob Dylan to bother to look for great works by the less famous. In my own minor way, I'm going to attempt to alter this karmic imbalance: I'm going to slap a few tunes by some of my favourites every week or so, depending on whether this starts to cost me too much money from my webhost. I hope you enjoy them.


First up is James McMurtry, who you could stick in the country/rock/folk category. You can find out anything you need to know about him on his website, but let the music do the talking. If you can only listen to one song, make sure it's Choctaw Bingo. From the opening lines you'll know you're in for a wild ride:

Strap them kids in,
Give 'em a little bit of vodka
In a cherry coke, we're going to
Oklahoma to the family reunion
For the first time in years...

Okay, I've written enough here. I really have to get to bed...