The Okee Dokee Brothers (probably my favorite band right now) are releasing their new two-disc album Songs for Singin’ two months early “so families can listen to some positive tunes while they stay home.”
The first single is “Hope Machine”, a jaunty tune that was written before COVID-19 but still pointedly speaks to the current moment:
Loved these lines:
Talk quiet and listen loud Teach humble and learn proud Scuffle with the struggle And wrestle with the pain
There’s lots more sophisticated and pithy life advice that’s both timely and timeless tucked into a song supposedly written just for kids. But that’s the Okee Dokee Brothers for you.
Had the pleasure of seeing The Okee Dokee Brothers in concert at Lincoln Hall. My little niece is a superfan of the folk duo, which is how I got turned onto them. And since they are a kid-centric act, I got to experience the glories of an 11 a.m. concert start time. I’d go to so many more concerts if they happened in the morning.
Though my exposure to children’s music is limited, none of what I have heard is as broadly appealing as The Okee Dokee Brothers. It’s just straight-up good roots, bluegrass, and folk music. Can You Canoe?, Saddle Up, and Through the Woods are all excellent albums for all ages. (They said their next album, out in October, will be all about winter—as if I needed another reason to love them!)
They also solved a problem I’d stumbled into ever since picking up the banjo and exploring bluegrass music. It’s going to sound like a backhanded compliment but I promise it’s just a plain compliment: the Okee Dokee Brothers don’t seem focused on being impressive.
They very well could be savants on the guitar and banjo, but unlike some artists they don’t waste time trying to prove how amazing instrumentalists they are through a fusillade of notes. A round of applause for those virtuosos—but I’m much more interested in being taken on a good musical storytelling journey.
The Okee Dokee Brothers demonstrated this (inadvertently) during their show, playfully hyping up their soloing abilities only to reveal some fairly pedestrian two-bar or one-note licks. Meanwhile, songs like “Through the Woods” and “Hillbilly Willy” and “Walking With Spring”, seemingly straightforward folk songs “for kids”, boast strong narrative arcs, clever lyrics, and beautiful musical craftsmanship. And all without punching listeners in the ear with a barrage of frailin’ and fingerpickin’.
In other words: Songs over notes. I know what you can do with all those notes, but what about what you can do with only some of them?