Monday, July 28th, 2008
Music Review: Yes to Running! Bill Harley Live
National Public Radio calls him "one of the country’s most recognized performers for families."
Entertainment Weekly calls him "the Mark Twain of contemporary kids’ music."
Thingamababy calls him "the best accessory a guitar ever had."
Okay, I’m not sure what that means.
Bill Harley strikes me as the nerdy kid who sat in the back of the classroom and spoke up a lot, just not with the right answers. He was very funny, but not the class clown, outgoing, but not the most popular, creative, but not the teacher’s favorite.
Then he went and grew up and realized grade school was a pretty damn good place to be, so he went back and has stayed for the last 25 years. Except, now he’s the tallest, funniest, most clued-in guy in all of fourth grade.
Yep, 25 years. He’s Red Grammer’s fraternal twin, except Grammer got a gymnastic voice and Harley got a storyteller’s brain. He won a Grammy last year for his Blah Blah Blah: Stories about Clams, Swamp Monsters, Pirates &
What we’re discussing today is Yes to Running! Bill Harley Live. It’s a separate 2 CD and 1 DVD recording of a live stage performance covering 1 hour and 45 minutes in a packed house at the University of Montana. The concert is composed of "fan favorite songs," and the DVD contains an extra video FAQ from fan letters and a biographical segment.
I’ll say up front the feel of his performance is oriented toward grade schoolers familiar with a classroom environment, but some of his songs and stories work for older toddlers. He produces precisely the type of comedy performance that I look forward to listening to and singing along with my kids on a long drive as we embark on a summer camping trip.
When he’s not singing, he’s telling a story. When he is singing, he’s telling a story. Here’s a rundown of the concert:
1. I Like to Sing â€” (song) A participatory tune about the joy of singing.
Well when I was a baby
on my mama’s knee,
Everybody worried what was wrong with me
‘Cause I would scream my head off
Do it all day long
But I was only practicing my little baby song
I like to sing…
2. Grownups are Strange â€” (song) Hopefully this one is self explanatory.
I’m talking about grown-ups, what they call adults
They’re very strange, but it’s not their fault
Once they were kids, they were good as gold
But then they got weird, ’cause they got old
Grownups are strange, that’s a fact
But you got to go forward, you can’t go back
Grownups are weird, yes that’s true
Someday it could happen to you.
3. Mom and the Radio â€” (story and song) A simple plot: Mom sings off-key in the car to songs that drive you bonkers.
4. The Great Sled Race â€” (guitar assisted story) After a debate over who received a better sled for Christmas and Hanukah, Harley and another kid challenge each other to a race down Mammoth Hill. The tone and progression of the story reminded my wife and I of Casey at Bat, but instead of mighty Casey striking out, the kids slide wildly downhill, across an intersection and into Mrs. Tarbuckle, the wife of Mr. Tarbuckle, the school principal.
The next thing I know
Something hits my chest
I don’t know north from south or east or west
The sleds are crowded
There’s not much space
Because Mrs. Tarbuckle’s joined the race.
Not to ruin the story, but the ending includes Dead Man’s Curve and a fire truck’s ladder extracting Mrs. Tarbuckle from a tree.
5. Mrs. Ammons and the Boys’ Room â€” (story) What happens when your favorite fourth grade teacher gives birth and misses the last days before summer vacation? A whole lot. The story is almost 28 minutes and quite entertaining. This one is definitely oriented toward school age kids, and any adults who survived fourth grade. The climax of the story is behind the CD/DVD title, "Yes to running!"
6. Is Not Is Too â€” (song) Harley argues in classic fashion with his 9-year-old sister. Audience participation has two sides singing "Is not!" and "Is too!"
7. The Ballad of Dirty Joe â€” (story) This is another wonderful tale good for any pirate-loving child. Dirty Joe is a sock-swiping pirate who comes up against Stinky Annie, his underwear snatching nemesis. It’s also a picture book. Watch the entire story from the DVD…
8. The Teachers’ Lounge â€” (story) The secrets of the teacher’s lounge are revealed.
9. You’re in Trouble â€” (song) Oops, he ate the cookies and he knows he shouldn’t have.. His inner voice begins to hound him, "You’re in trouble!" Then things kind of spiral out of control like that episode of Leave it to Beaver when Beaver climbs inside a steaming soup bowl atop a billboard.
10. Echo â€” (song) A soft call-and-response song that incidentally strikes me as a nice calming down song for an overactive toddler.
As the embedded videos indicate, the DVD is a direct representation of the performance from several camera angles. It’s not spliced with attention deficit inducing flashy garbage. And so, it’s precisely the type of video content I’m comfortable showing my daughter.