Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Randy Kaplan

Randy Kaplan is a singer/songwriter/performer from Brooklyn. He has released several albums for adults but just released his first album specifically for kids called Five Cent Piece.

Randy has one of the most interesting voices I've ever heard, right up there with Justin Roberts for its peculiar quality. ("Peculiar" in both cases meaning distinct and special, not freaky or weird.) He shares some of the nasal twang as singers like Michael Stipe and Arlo Guthrie, and there's also just a bit of grit in there, as if his vocal chords forgot to shake their shoes out after a day at the beach. Most significantly, Randy's voice is incredibly easy-going and welcoming, and you feel like you're sitting next to an old friend on an old couch and he's playing a new tune for you and you know you're already going to be enthralled with it the first time you hear it because, ya know, it's your good friend, Randy.

That's an important quality to have for this material, because Randy is very much in the Arlo Guthrie vein of story-telling through songs, and if he wasn't such a friendly character then some of the songs with a lot of talking might get tiresome. But my kids and I love this CD and are happy to let Randy spin his yarns over and over and knit us up into a warm little mitten.

Much of the CD consists of new renditions of classic songs like "We're in the Same Boat, Brother", "I'm a Little Dinosaur", "Freight Train", "Kids" (from Bye Bye Birdie) and "You Are My Sunshine". All are done in a sweet folky style with smooth fingerstyle guitar as the backbone, and different tracks include some nice accompaniment including trombone, mandolin, violin and accordian. "Over the Rainbow" is one of those songs like "Unchained Melody" or "O Holy Night", where I thought it would need a particularly virtuoso vocalist to pull it off, but Randy's version is one of the most beautiful I've ever heard. The earthy twang of his voice along with the gently rolling guitar may not be in perfect pitch or perfect intonation, and yet it is so "just right" in every deeply soulful way that really matters. It doesn't hurt that the song is so great to begin with, but Randy has made this version truly special.

Randy also does a very funny version of "You Can't Always Get What You Want", where he replaces the Stones' verses with another Arlo styled story about a kid who wants to play all day at the playground and doesn't want to get dressed into his pajamas after his bath and wants to eat nothing but ice cream and... well... you know how the chorus goes. In the third chorus, Randy goes off and provides voices for different family members and a strange menagerie of pets who all sing along on the title phrase. This takes what David Grover and his band did so well with "Where's My Pajamas" and one-ups it. I was laughing out loud when he got to the snake and the horse and the cow. And I love his little interjections between the chorus lines like, "Adapt this as your first mantra!" and "Use it preemptively!" Good advice, indeed. The track is nearly ten minutes long, which might be a bit much for some, but I enjoyed it all. This song also shows off Randy's ability to do funny voices and to be an engaging goof, which is evident on other tracks as well.

Somewhat ironically, the cover song that didn't work for me that well was Randy's take on Arlo Guthrie's "The Motorcycle Song", which kind of felt a bit flat compared to the original, and misses the Arlo witticism of lines like, "Luckily, I didn't go into the mountain... I went over the cliff." I suppose that Randy is so good with his Arlo approach and his sense of humor on other songs that the expectation was particularly high for this.

Randy also offers four original tracks. They're all kind of odd in their own way, which is good. (Again with 'peculiar' meaning special and unique.) I especially liked the first original, which is a song about a shark who invades Randy's bathtub and orders him to "Shampoo me!" I love the phrasing when he sings the title, with his high chirp on the "poo" and the low growl on "me", and the second verse in particular is very funny as the shark counters Randy's complaint about the shark's lack of hair by telling him, "You don't have any, either," and pointing out that he still has a bottle of shampoo nearby, regardless. "Mosquito Song" is a lowdown bluesy number about Randy trying to flick a mosquito away from him. "Roaches" is very pleasant musically, but a bit disturbing as it describes an apartment where roaches are everywhere, even on the bookshelf reading Kafka (of course). The song ends with the roaches singing in a way that sounds almost like a glass bottle slide on an acoustic guitar. "Mostly Yellow" is a sad ballad about how Big Bird, with his Fruit Loop ankles, has never flown anywhere, so he's "mostly yellow, but just a little blue". (Randy might need to update his Sesame Street viewing, though, as he refers to Snuffy as being invisible, which of course is not the case.)

It's the little details during his song commentary, the warm and welcoming feeling of the music, and the instantly engaging and friendly nature of Randy's voice and character that makes this such a winning recording. I really enjoy listening to this, and look forward to hearing more music from Randy.

Randy Kaplan website

Eric's review of Randy's 2008 release, Loquat Rooftop

1 comment:

Idaho Dad said...

This is nice. For some reason, he reminds me a little bit of Adam Sandler, singing one of his parodies.