Saturday, February 16, 2008

Buck Howdy

Buck Howdy is unique in the children's music world. Yes, there have been some good country-music styled kids' acts coming out in recent years, including Little Nashville, Farmer Jason and the Bummkin Band, but there hasn't really been a notable old-fashioned cowboy personality like Buck... at least not that I'm aware of.

Buck is nothing if not personality, and his aw shucks friendly uncle from Tennesee kind of voice pulls you right in and holds you captive throughout his CDs. It's a delivery that seems effortless in its charm but also sounds like the genuine article of a man who has spent many years rustling, wrangling, roping and other such things that cowboys do. I get the impression that Buck could tell a story about sorting coupons that would keep kids totally enthralled around a crackling campfire.

Speaking of campfires, Buck pays homage to some classic campfire fare with two of the songs on his second kids' album, Giddyup!, released in 2005. The CD opens with "S'mores", a fine fiddle-y ditty (see the video below), and the fourth track is "Baked Beans", which may be the best flatulence-related song ever (I propose a championship fight between that song and John Hadfield's "I Like Beans"). In "Baked Beans" you can just about hear Buck smiling and holding back his own laughter as he sings, and it really conveys the feeling that he's having as much fun performing the song as we are hearing it.

On the bouncy title track, Buck sings some cleverly silly lines like "I was going to a dance and I had to practice. Why oh why did I do it with a cactus?" and he gives a fun lesson for chasing the blues away by singing like animals on "Baa, Neigh, Cock-a-Doodle Doo". Giddyup! also features some prominent guest performers including Trout Fishing in America's Keith and Ezra providing backing vocals on "S'mores" and "Giddyup" and Laurie Berkner singing beautifully along with Buck on "Happy Trails". There is also one of the best parodies I've heard on a kids' album listed as the bonus track, but I don't know that I can give it away being that it's titled "Bonus Track". I really should have seen the chorus line coming, but it still made me laugh out loud when I first heard it.

Giddyup! was the first Buck Howdy album I'd heard (he also released Skidaddle! in 2002) and I was instantly a big fan. Buck released the follow-up, Chickens, last year, and in addition to more great songs, he also added a fine singer to his act (BB, pictured above). Chickens has a lot of what might be called "Western swing", with an almost jazzy feel to a number of the tracks. There's still a predominance of country to the sound, but there's a bounciness and arrangement to some of the tracks that emphasizes the "swing" as much as the "Western".

also has a lot of chickens. "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens" is a winner and is so heavy on the swing that you might have expected Glenn Miller to have orchestrated it. The title track is a little bit unfortunate, though... It plays with expectations where it sounds like it's about a philandering husband but really he's just a farmer who loves taking care of his chickens. It's a clever turnaround and it's the type of innuendo that kids aren't going to get anyway, so it's no big deal in that sense. But the thing is, it's not a great subject for adults, either, with lines like "I buy ‘em food and give ‘em drinks, along with lots of lovin'. Then those girls lay out the treats by the dozens." Using distasteful imagery as some kind of metaphor or correlation still includes the distasteful imagery on the surface. So the song is enjoyable but for me it left a little bit of a bad taste in terms of the subject matter. Rounding out the chicken-related material on the album is the instrumental bonus track. You can probably guess what it is by my mention of "instrumental" and "chicken-related".

There are a lot of other great tracks on Chickens, including "Wiggle, Waggle, Wave", a super-swingy ode to friendly greetings; "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda", a catchy, easy-going tune about doing things you're supposed to do before you regret the consequences; "I'm My Own Grandpa", Buck's engaging version of the old novelty hit about the ultimate family paradox; and "I Can't Imagine", a sweet ballad duet which really shows the complement of Buck and BB's voices.

Chickens was nominated for a Grammy last year and shows an interesting change from the more straightforward old-time country feel of his earlier albums, perhaps making it more accessible to a wider audience. With his great delivery and sense of humor, I'm intrigued to see what kind of yarns Buck will spin next around the campfire.

Buck Howdy website