The Okee Dokee Brothers are not technically brothers. But the duo (Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander) may as well be brothers after having spent as much time together as they did for their latest album Through The Woods and its predecessor Can You Canoe? Lansing and Mailander actually hiked the Appalachian Trail for Through The Woods, the duo’s second “adventure album” and fifth album overall. This after the men had already paddled their way down the Mississippi River together for their 2012 album Can You Canoe? All of that time together has led to some of the best music that The Okee Dokee Brothers have crafted to date in this new record. Through The Woods is an album that celebrates what North Carolina musician David Holt calls “Mountain Music” in his interview included in the bonus DVD included with the album. That DVD will be discussed at length later. The music itself is the key point of success to the album’s enjoyment. Anyone that is a fan of bluegrass and Appalachian music will thoroughly enjoy every song on this record. Also making the whole experience more enjoyable for audiences is the booklet included with the double-disc album. Together with the music and bonus DVD, it rounds out an album that has not only taken the top spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new children’s albums, but also the year’s best new albums overall.
The Okee Dokee Brothers’ second adventure album is also a double winner in the eyes (and ears) of this critic. It has currently taken the top spot on this critic’s list of both the year’s best new children’s albums and the year’s best new albums overall. What’s truly interesting about such status is that in listening to Through The Woods, audiences wouldn’t even think of The Okee Dokee Brothers to be children’s entertainers. That’s because the “mountain music” that makes up the album will appeal both to parents and children alike. It’s not just the standard children’s album. It really is a family album and an album for anyone that is a fan of Appalachian/mountain music (as guest musician David Holt calls it). Some of the songs included on the album are originals while others are more familiar such as the classic ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain.’ In other cases such as ‘Jamboree’ and ‘Fiddlestick Joe’, Lansing and Mailander took ‘Swing and turn Jamboree’ ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ and used them as the basis for their own semi-new pieces. If the songs themselves aren’t enough to entice listeners to check out this record, maybe the guest spots will help convince said audiences to give it a chance.
Through The Woods is a wonderful album not just for children but for adults, too. That’s first and foremost because of its music. It is clear that it isn’t aimed just at children. In the same vein, older audiences will recognize the likes of David Holt, Cathy Fink, Marcy Marxer, and Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops on this record. The inclusion of older musicians, music, and lyrical themes that are aimed more at general audiences than specifically at children goes even farther to prove just how enjoyable this record is for listeners of all ages. It serves to show that Lansing and Mailander are perhaps branching out of their niche realm without alienating the parents and children that they entertained early on. It’s even more reason to applaud this album.
The music and special guest appearances on the album’s songs collectively create a solid foundation for Through The Woods. That foundation having been established, Lansing and Mailander make their latest album even more enjoyable for audiences thanks to the inclusion of a bonus companion DVD that comes with the CD. The album’s bonus DVD documents the journey undertaken by Lansing and Mailander. Along the course of their trip, the men interview a number of individuals who share the history of Appalachian/Mountain Music in their given region. As noted previously, well-known North Carolina musician David Holt is one of those individuals. He makes the interesting statement that he prefers to call Appalachian music “Mountain Music.” That’s because as he puts it, it encompasses the music of every region along the Appalachian Trail. It makes sense. The other interviews featured through the pair’s journey are just as interesting as they come from ordinary people that live along the trail. Audiences will be able to relate to these average, every day figures. And because of that ability to relate, audiences will enjoy the presentation even more.
The documentary following the Okee Dokee Brothers included on the album’s bonus DVD is a wonderful addition to the disc. It’s not all that the bonus DVD offers audiences. The Okee Dokee Brothers sweeten the deal even more by including their album in its entirety on the DVD, too. So not only do listeners get to hear Through The Woods on CD, they also get to hear it on DVD. It makes the bonus DVD that much more of a true bonus and welcome companion to the album. It seals the deal for this album that justifiably deserves to be called the best children’s album of the year so far and the best new album overall so far this year.
The album and its companion DVD presented to audiences in this set go a long way toward making Through The Woods a wonderfully grand musical journey for audiences. There is still one more aspect of the album that deserves to be noted that plays a positive role in the grand scheme of things. That last aspect is the album’s companion booklet. The booklet includes specific thoughts on each of the album’s songs from Lansing and Mailander and little doodles that accompany each one. Their thoughts are both enlightening and entertaining. They playfully comment about an 11-year old musician that in the liner notes for ‘Out Of Tune’, joking that he could eat his own body weight in banana pudding. They actually interview the boy and his siblings in the companion DVD. So audiences will get to hear from each of them, too. It’s not all that audiences will get from the album’s liner notes. Audiences will also be surprised to learn that one member of the Okee Dokee Brothers actually grew up learning how to play banjo thanks to instructional videos from North Carolina’s own David Holt. These are but a pair of examples of what makes the liner notes to this album a rare treat. And together with everything else mentioned, audiences will see more clearly than ever just why Through The Woods more than deserves to be on any critic’s annual “Best Of” lists.
Through The Woods will be available Tuesday, May 20th. The Okee Dokee Brothers are currently touring in support of the album. The duo is scheduled to perform live next Saturday, May 17th at Black Bear Crossings in St. Paul, Minnesota. That show is sold out. However, tickets are still available for the duo’s other upcoming shows. The Okee Dokee Brothers’ current tour schedule is available online at http://www.okeedokee.org. Audiences can also go to http://www.okeedokee.org to keep up with all the latest news from The Okee Dokee Brothers. Fans can also follow the duo on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/okeedokeebros. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.