Reviewed by Gregory Keer
Calling themselves “America’s Ultimate Teaching Band” only tells part of the story, but it’s a pretty big chunk of what makes The Deedle Deedle Dees a revelation of a band. These tenaciously talented Dees have a new album that is offbeat, a little strange, and super smart — a combination that is surprisingly effective. It’s a little like They Might Be Giants for an older crowd of kids.
The disc has 19 songs, each of which touches on such topics as historical figures, philosophical concepts, and folkloric tales. Sirius/XM’s Kids Place Live currently has the opening track of “Ah Ahimsa” playing frequently, largely because of its exotic sound and message about nonviolence (with references to Gandhi). “The Golem” uses klezmer-style strains along with its explanation of the mystical creature created to save the Jewish people from harm in 16th century Prague. Employing a late-‘70s rock sound (a bit of Joe Jackson and Queen), “Sacagawea” offers details of the Lewis and Clark guide from the grateful perspective of William Clark.
The Brooklyn-based band consists of leader/songwriter Lloyd Miller (who goes by Ulysses S. Dee), mandolin/guitar player Ari Dolegowski (Moby Dee), multi-instrumentalist (largely keyboards) Chris Johnson (Booker Dee), and percussionist Ely Levin (Otto von Dee). With the direction of producer Dean Jones (of Dog on Fleas), this recording is as musically potent and assured as it is educationally engaging. More highlights of the project range from the soaring story-song of African American pioneer “Sojourner Truth” to the quirky “Birds of America Don’t Care-Oh,” which offers a view that birds might have of the portraits Audubon painted. Two tracks also worth noting take on New York history: “Mayor LaGuardia’s Stomach” (about Moby Dee’s grandmother bumping into the legendary politician of NYC) and “Henry (Hudson), How Ya Gonna Find a Way? (which mixes history about the 17th century explorer and the tale of “Rip Van Winkle”).
Because the lyrics offers so much enlightenment, it’s well worth calling up the group’s Web pages explaining the content of the songs’ words (http://teachddd.blogspot.com). There are even reading recommendations for adults. Strange Dees. Indeed. is an endlessly entertaining and instructive package of music. It makes the top 5 of my picks for 2011.