Tag Archives: Dog on Fleas

A Conversation with Debbie Lan of Grenadilla

As you’re no doubt aware if you’ve been visiting Dadnabbit for any length of time, I’m a huge fan of Dean Jones and Dog on Fleas — but since I’m something of a late convert to their music, it wasn’t until late last year that I discovered the band’s ranks once included Debbie Lan, whose dulcet tones now front the Capetown rhythms of kindie’s first kwela-based group, Grenadilla.

What’s kwela, you ask? Well, if you’ve ever listened to Paul Simon’s Graceland, you’ve got something like an idea — it’s South African music, full of memorable melodies, joyous harmonies, and the sunny sound of the pennywhistle. I haven’t been able to stop listening to Grenadilla’s debut for months (as I told Debbie during our chat, the only thing I don’t like about her music is that there isn’t more of it), and I thought it was high time we talked. If you haven’t heard Grenadilla yet, you’re in for a treat; visit their site for samples from the album, a link to a live NPR performance, and more.

Grenadilla’s album never leaves heavy rotation in my house, and I don’t think enough people have listened to it. Let’s talk about what you’re doing with the group.

These are songs that were just…in my head for awhile. They just sort of popped out at the right time, I guess. I don’t really know how else to describe it. I mean, I always wanted to have something where I was singing with a group of women, and after I left Dog on Fleas, it seemed like a natural progression. Continue reading

CD Review: Dog on Fleas, “The Bestest of the Best”

Dadnabbit’s love of all things Dog on Fleas and/or Dean Jones has been well-documented ’round these parts, so I’m not going to even pretend to be objective about the band’s first best-of collection, the aptly titled The Bestest of the Best. Basically, what I’m about to say boils down to two things:

1. I love it; and
2. You should buy it now.

That’s really it. If you trust my judgment at all when it comes to family entertainment, just stop reading now and order copies of The Bestest of the Best for your family and your closest parent-type friends. Come back here later to thank me. (You’re welcome.)

If you need to know more for some reason, here it is: The Bestest of the Best culls a marvelous 20 tracks from the band’s previous six albums, and while they’ve expressed unreasonable modesty where their earlier stuff is concerned (they’re taking a pair of older titles out of print, which is what prompted Bestest), everything here hangs together brilliantly, from newer songs to re-recorded versions of older tracks to the marvelous “Buffalo Gals,” recorded with Elizabeth Mitchell for a charity compilation and making its first appearance on a Dog on Fleas CD.

It’s just terrific stuff — warm, gently whimsical, and packed with lyrical gems. Dog on Fleas’ music soothes (the heartwarming “Beautiful World,” which contains the brilliant line “God goes clamming and brings up a pearl / Beautiful world, beautiful world”), it makes you think (the jaunty “The Moon Song” compares our changing moods — and the ups and downs of our days — to “the waxing and the waning of the moon”), it makes you laugh (the times-tables-by-way-of-shouting “Twistification”), it brings a tear to your eye (the simply beautiful “Happy”).

Put simply, the band makes music about things that matter — about love, about family bonds, about respecting the world around us. They impart their messages without being preachy, and they perform without artifice; these are songs that sound like the work of people together in the same room. If I could buy a copy for everyone, I would.

CD Review: Various Artists, “Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti”

You wouldn’t be visiting Dadnabbit if you weren’t looking for quality entertainment that your whole family can enjoy.

What if you could have it — lots of it — and support a worthy cause in the bargain?

That’s the idea behind Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti, the debut offering from Bill Childs‘ Spare the Rock Records, and it works splendidly. The track listing boasts a virtual Who’s Who of the best and brightest in kindie, including Recess Monkey, Elizabeth Mitchell, Gustafer Yellowgold, Dan Zanes, and Uncle Rock — and almost all of the songs are previously unreleased. The set was produced by Dean Jones of Dog on Fleas, who helped round up the artists (including Pete Seeger, recorded in a single take in his living room) and contributed a pair of tracks (Dog on Fleas’ lovely “Sing About the Sun” and the quirky, irresistible Jones solo cut “Little by Little”).

If you’re familiar with Bill’s work, or any of the artists I named above, you know what to expect from Many Hands — it includes its share of boisterous, candy-colored tracks (like They Might Be Giants’ “My Name Is Kingof Socks”), but this crew is fighting the good fight; where they go, smart, honest kids’ music is sure to follow, and most of it is stripped down to its bare essentials. There’s no artifice here, no pandering to children, no teeth-grindingly cute arrangements or lyrics. Just family entertainment, in the truest sense — beautifully recorded by a family of artists, to benefit families half a world away.

More about that worthy cause: Proceeds from Many Hands go to the Haitian People’s Support Project, where they’re working hard to repair the devastation of the January earthquake. It’s a crisis too great for one charity — or one great CD — to solve, but you can help by picking up a copy of the album and explaining the story behind it to your kids. And if you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance, you can attend one of the Many Hands concerts scheduled for the fall.

(While it wasn’t an official Many Hands show, Dadnabbit was lucky enough to play a part in bringing Dog on Fleas to our rural corner of New Hampshire recently. Pictures here.)

The more time I spend with kids’ entertainment, the less patience I have for movies or music that waste energy condescending to their audience. Kids are just like us — they respond to things that make them feel, that treat them with respect, and that trust their intelligence. The artists who contributed their time and talent to this project understand this, and that’s what makes it such a beautiful, valuable listen. If you buy only one CD for your family this year, make it Many Hands.