Reviewed by Gregory Keer
Even if I didn’t like Randy Kaplan’s music so much, I’d have to tell you about it because my kids would never forgive me. They’ve been big fans, particularly because of Randy’s sense of humor (witness songs on previous albums such as “No Nothing” – ) and “Don’t Fill Up on Chips”). I became such an admirer of the man’s work that I rated his The Kids Are All Id project the best family music of 2010.
Now, he’s gone and made me have to review another album of his, Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie. An homage to those Kaplan calls “the Superheroes of American Blues,” this recording is more powerful than a locomotive in the way it drives kids through a range of blues sounds – hearkening back to the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s — while it entertains them with his trademark lyrical wit. Throughout the album, Kaplan uses a blues persona, Lightnin’ Bodkins to help teach kids about such blues legends as Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bessie Smith, Blind Blake, and Muddy Waters. For the CD package, there are also 20 pages of liner notes for even more enlightening information about the influences on this collection of country blues and ragtime tunes.
Among the many blues-licious tracks on this jam-packed album is the Dixieland-style opener “They’re Red Hot,” which indeed starts things with high energy. Kaplan is as much a storyteller as he is a musician, as evidenced on the harmonica-infused “Runaway Blues” (about a childhood dalliance with leaving home) and “In a Timeout Now” (featuring child participation on some yodeling). Other “listen first” worthy songs are the rollicking “Ice Cream Rag,” the standing-up-to-a-bully tale of “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon,” and the rootsy sound and heartfelt words of “Green Green Rocky Road.”
Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie is ambitious in its effort to educate young listeners about some of the most significant indigenous music America has produced. It’s also funny, insightful, and loving. Who would want to miss out on all of that?