Frankly, I am shocked by how much I like this album. I’m not really a fan of Medeski Martin & Wood’s adult releases. That’s not that to say that I dislike their work… It just never really did much for me. (Different strokes for different folks, you know.) Anyway, Let’s Go Everywhere has made me see MM&W in a different light, and I think that is one of the marks of a truly good recording.
Okay. So before we get into the music, I have a few things to say about the album art. The packaging is, after all, the first thing we see right? I get a lot out of album art and liner notes, and I particularly enjoyed what I found here. It’s not computer generated, not slick and not modern. Or, not what I think of as slick and modern. It is, instead, colorfully and imaginatively illustrated. It reminds me of the drawings that filled the pages of books my parents read to me when I was young (and, yeah, that WAS in the 70’s). I like the images of hot air balloons and large caterpillar looking things that kind of remind me of Syd and Marty Croft, with happily afroed children atop. I look back at childrens’ literature from that era, and it takes me back… to me those books are “classic.” And so, to me, the packaging of Medeski Martin & Wood’s release promised a “classic.” Now, we all know that you should never judge a book by its’ cover, and that CD jackets RARELY deliver what they promise… Imagine my surprise!
I’ve been trying to pinpoint the exact reason that I like Let’s Go Everywhere so much, and I think it comes down Medeski Martin & Wood’s ability to tell a musical story.
A lot of folks are lauding the inclusion of lyrics in the band’s work on Let’s Go Everywhere, I guess because they don’t usually write lyrics for their songs. Their take on Geoff Mack’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” is, like the original, undeniably catchy- as are “The Train Song,” “Pirates Don’t Take Baths,” and “On an Airplane.” But my feeling is that the strength of Medeski Martin & Wood’s recent work lies in its’ instrumental tracks.
The instrumentals tell a MUCH better story, and I think we should be looking at those tracks in the same way that we look at toys for our children that promote open ended play. Take “Cat Creeps,” for example: What’s that song about? To me, it’s about a bunch of feline spies, peering through back alley windows. To you, maybe it’s about ninjas tip toeing about in a cat-like manner. To your kid, it could simply be about pretending he is his favorite pet, stalking a catnip mouse. “Where’s The Music” is a tuneful game of peek-a-boo. You follow the music as it stops and starts, thinking “Where IS the Music?”. (Is is under the chair? Maybe it went up your nose. Is it hiding behind the toy chest? OH! There it is!) And when you hear “Let’s Go” you hear it asking you to dance. It says “Let’s Go! Take the lead and dance- anyway YOU want.”
I like, also, that Let’s Go Everywhere invites the listener to hear familiar themes from childhood in a new way. “Pat-a-Cake,” for instance, combines beautifully with “Pease Porridge Hot” on this release. Both original nursery rhymes are percussive in nature so putting them together and adding a heavy beat updates them, with a nod to hip-hop, in a completely natural way. Likewise, “Hickory Dickory Dock” is recorded as word jazz. It’s a smooth jazz track, featuring spoken word from a nine-year old channelling Ken Nordine. There’s a soft, dreamy version of “Old Paint,” and even a loose connection to “All Around the Kitchen,” the American folk song made popular by Pete Seeger and, more recently Dan Zanes. Though MM&W’s version, filled with the joyful sounds of a young girl playing kitchen, is hardly recognizable as such.
While I feel the strongest tracks on Let’s Go Everywhere are the instrumentals, I cannot deny that my favorite is one with words- the story of “The Squalb.” This imaginative story, written and told by John Lurie, is one of the best I’ve heard. The story is told in a narrative style and backed by the album’s opening track, “Waking Up.” I don’t wanna spoil the story by giving away too much information, but…ummm, well…. pocket lint. And that’s where I’ll stop. (Really, SO good.)
There’s no denying that this is a jazz album. Medeski Martin & Wood’s groovy organ/bass/drum sounds are prevalent throughout, but we also find particularly artistic instrumentation with the addition of mbira, claviola, background noise and the voices of the band’s own children. There are, at times, definite musical references to Vince Guaraldi, and a young chanteuse sings in the style of Astrud Gilberto on “We’re All Connected.” John Medeski is quoted on Little Monster Records’ website as saying “In most cultures of the world, there is no distinction between music for children and music for everyone else.” I think, in keeping with that line of thought and throwing out preconceived notions of what children’s music should sound like, Medeski Martin & Wood have created a great jazz record and an excellent introduction to the genre for our kids.
I’m not sure if Medeski Martin & Wood intended to create an interactive toy when they made Let’s Go Everywhere, but essentially, that’s what they did. Maybe they should have called it Let’s Go ANYWHERE, because these songs invite you to use your imagination and do just that.