Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing — aka The Okee Dokee Brothers — have, over the course of the past nine years, become one of the most well-known acts in the world of family music. That is because the Minneapolis, MN-based duo’s music has managed to defy the barriers of the genre, both musically and lyrically, with the release of each of its past six albums. The pair’s recently completed “adventure album” trilogy, which saw the longtime friends writing their albums while actually traveling the length of the Mississippi River, the Appalachian Trail and the Great Divide, certainly had to have helped the duo build its reputation and success, too. Considering the success of those three albums and that of their predecessors, changing pace again for its latest effort, Winterland — which was officially released Oct. 19 via the pair’s own Okee Dokee Music – was a gamble. That is because the duo’s “adventure albums’ showed the men at the peak of their career. Listening through the 16-song, 45-minute record, it becomes clear that the album is a “lucky seven” for the guys. That is proven in part through its musical arrangements, which will be discussed shortly. The record’s lyrical themes are just as important to the record’s presentation as its musical arrangements, and will be discussed a little bit later. The album’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of Winterland. All things considered, they make the album a work to which listeners will have no problem warming up.
The Okee Dokee Brothers’ seventh full-length studio recording Winterland is a strong new offering from the veteran performers to which listeners will have no trouble warming up, and that also proved to be a “lucky” gamble for the longtime friends. That is evidenced in part through the record’s musical arrangements. The arrangements, in large part, are familiar offerings from Mailander and Lansing, with their bluegrass and country leanings. Though, there are some slight variations that change things up a bit throughout. Case is point is the arrangement at the center of ‘Ice Fishin’ Shack.’ The pair’s familiar bluegrass-tinged sound is there at the arrangement’s base, however the addition of the baritone sax (or at least what sounds like a baritone sax), flute and washboard gives that bluegrass a new twist that the pair has tried very little if at all. ‘Keep Me Warm,’ which immediately follows ‘Ice Fishin’ Shack’ adds in some zydeco influences, again changing things up yet again, and in the best way possible. ‘Slumberjack,’ with its full-on a capella approach is largely unfamiliar territory for The Okee Dokee Brothers, too. The approach here, with its vocal layering technique, goes a long way toward not only making the song one of the record’s best moments, but also one of the best examples of the Celtic roots of bluegrass and country. The song comes in just short of two minutes, but is still a powerful moment in its own right. ‘Ukelele in a Snowstorm’ takes listeners to the warm shores of Hawaii, changing things up yet again, and in turn keeping the record interesting musically. ‘Snowpeople’ is yet another example of Mailander and Lansing switching things again in this record. With its waltz time approach, tuba, trombone and subtle banjo lines, the song is anything but bluegrass or even country. That argument is strengthened even more as a whistling “chorus” comes into play. As if all of this is not enough example of the importance of the record’s musical arrangements, ‘Lazy Day’ can also be used to support that statement. The arrangement is in itself a lazy sort of sound, yet is the perfect fit for the song. It conjures thoughts of so many easy listening pieces that have ever been crafted, yet is actually enjoyable. When this arrangement is considered along with the others discussed here, it becomes clear that Mailander and Lansing have gone to painstaking efforts to develop their sound even more this time out without alienating their more seasoned fan base. Those efforts have paid off, giving listeners a good balance of the familiar and less familiar alike. To that end, the record’s overall arrangements prove critical to the overall presentation of Winterland. They, collectively, are only one of the most important elements that plays into the album’s whole. The record’s lyrical themes are just as important to examine as its musical arrangements.
While the title of The Okee Dokee Brothers’ new LP is Winterland and some of its tracks are centered on winter, even those that are centered on the season are not entirely about the season. Case in point is the song ‘Snowpeople,’ which uses, literally, snow men and snow women as the basis for a discussion on gender roles. ‘Ice Fishin’ Shack’ centers on being out on a frozen lake, fishing in one of those tiny shacks. On a deeper level, though, it’s a song about friendship. ‘The Abominable Yeti’ takes the legend of the Yeti and uses it as the basis for a discussion on taking the time to try to see past preconceived notions. It is really a good piece as it can especially apply in discussions about accepting people who look different from us. Along with the winter-centered songs that are used for those deeper discussions, the album does in fact feature songs that are just about winter, such as the album’s opener, ‘Blanket of Snow,’ ‘Ukelele in a Snowstorm’ and ‘Slumberjack.’ There are also straight forward deep pieces to compliment all of this in the form of ‘Candles,’ ‘Great Grandmother Tree’ and ‘Howl.’ ‘Candles,’ simply put, is a takeoff of the standard ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ It centers on the metaphorical light in each person as it talks about not letting the light be blown out. It truly is one of the album’s most powerful entries. ‘Great Grandmother Tree’ focuses on the very tough discussion on the topic of the circle of life, yet it does so in such a tactful fashion. ‘Howl’ is a much more upbeat song that centers simply on the reality that sometimes, a person just needs to get out their frustrations. Again, it does it in an upbeat fashion that will put a smile on any listener’s face. Between these songs, the songs which center directly on winter and those that use the season as the base for discussions on bigger topics, and of course the rest of the album’s additions, the whole of the album’s lyrical themes proves to be just as critical to the album’s presentation as its musical arrangements. While both of these elements are key to the album’s whole, they are not its only important elements. The album’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements.
The sequencing of Winterland is so important to its presentation because the energy in the album’s songs plays just as much of a part in maintaining listeners’ engagement and entertainment as the record’s musical and lyrical content. Without a stable balance of energies (as has been noted so many times in other reviews), that noted engagement and entertainment would be anything but assured. Keeping that in mind, the album’s sequencing is its own positive. The record starts off upbeat in its first two songs before pulling back a bit in the more laid back vibe of ‘Ice Fishin’ Shack.’ Once that song is done, the energy picks right back up again with ‘Keep Me Warm,’ and while it pulls back just a little bit from there, that pullback is not too much. It stays up just enough to keep listeners’ toes tapping right up until Mailander and Lansing move into ‘Candles.’ From ‘Candles’ to ‘Howl,’ the albums energy gradually rises again, giving listeners even more to appreciate. From there to the album’s end, the energy continues to rise and fall at all of the right points right to the record’s finale, ‘Signs of Spring,’ which is a wonderfully upbeat work about the connectivity of spring and winter. It also uses that discussion as a bigger, heavier discussion on the connection of life and death. Simply put, from start to end, the album’s energies are well-balanced throughout the album’s 45-minute run. Considering this, along with the importance displayed in the album’s musical and lyrical content, the whole of Winterland proves to be a gamble that paid off for The Okee Dokee Brothers, and to which listeners will have no problem warming up.
The Okee Dokee Brothers’ seventh full-length studio recording Winterland isa gamble for the guys that clearly paid off. It is a record to which listeners will have no trouble warming up. That is proven in part through the record’s musical arrangements, which go back to the duo’s past while also presenting more of its familiar bluegrass-infused sounds. The lyrical themes exhibited throughout the album play a critical part to the album’s whole, too. That is because of the diversity clearly exhibited in said themes. The album’s sequencing ensures that listeners will be able to hear all of that for themselves without stopping at any given point in the album’s run. Each noted item is important in its own way to the whole of Winterland. All things considered, they make the album a wise gamble from The Okee Dokee Brothers, and an album to which listeners will have no problem warming up. More information on Winterland is available online now along with The Okee Dokee Brothers’ latest news and more at:
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.