Can You Canoe?

Music review by
Kim Alessi, Common Sense Media
Can You Canoe? Music Poster Image
Nature-loving adventure album is full of wit and wonder.

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The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Educational Value

Think of Can You Canoe? as a kid- (and teacher-) friendly Americana adventure album. Imagine listening to these songs when studying units on American music history, Westward Expansion, Antebellum, and the Civil War. Kids can examine these songs when learning how waterways like the Erie Canal and the Mississippi River served as our original interstate highways and transformed our nation's way of life. While some lyrics might not be representational of the genre's style, they certainly are relevant to today's school-age kids and go the distance to inspire curiosity. The companion DVD is also an educational treat. Footage of The Brothers playing their songs featured in the CD, paddling along the mighty river and showcasing the beautiful scene and inspirational encounters from their trip, conveys a great deal to inquisitive eyes and ears.

Positive Messages

Unplugging from a frenzied world is the message in "Campin' Tent:" "I used to have toys and trinkets and knickknacks laying around, and while those things are nice to have, they end up weighing you down/So I left all my belongings because they made me discontent. And the only thing I brought with me was this little camping tent/It's my transportable, affordable apartment where I open the roof zipper and can watch the Big Dipper rising as a breeze blows through the window vent/It's time well spent living in my camping tent."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Many songs embrace nature and enduring friendships. From the title track: "Can you canoe on a little boat built for two?/Can you canoe, I'll be the captain and your crew/Can you canoe if there's nothing better to do? I want to float down a river with you." From "Brothers:" "Brother, Brother, we know one another like a captain knows his boat/We've seen blue skies together and cloudy weather/Times we sink, times we float/'Cuz under the surface the water runs deep and the current is strong/We can run out of steam by paddlin' upstream/Or we can just let it roll us along."

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff

Several other musicians join the Okee Dokee Brothers on this album. Children's music artist Elizabeth Mitchell is featured on "Soft and Simple," and The Band's Garth Hudson joins on "Haul Away Joe" and "Roll on River." "Along for the Ride" features singer/bassist Rachel Loshak and songwriter/illustrator Morgan Taylor joins in on "The Bullfrog Opera."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Can You Canoe? is a superb collection of acoustic Americana folk tunes inspired by a month-long canoe trip adventure down the Mississippi River. Most are original songs, with a couple of traditional renditions, all in a mix of old-time bluegrass, Dixieland, river songs, and early jazz and blues styles. The songs are well written and produced with clean and clever lyrics; most have the Mississippi and The Great Outdoors as their backdrop. These are uplifting songs about embracing nature and enjoying the simplicities of life that the whole family will love. Can You Canoe? won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Children's Album.

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What's the story?

The Okee Dokee Brothers are Minnesota songwriters Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander. The two are longtime childhood friends who spent a month canoeing the Mississippi River together, which is the inspiration for this album. This Grammy Award-winning album contains 15 songs, mostly original tunes, with a couple of traditional renditions; its accompanying 40-minute DVD chronicles their journey from the Missisipppi River's headwaters in Minnesota to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The Brothers' next adventure album project will focus on hiking, including a month on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

Is it any good?

Like fellow Mississippi River traveler Mark Twain, CAN YOU CANOE? is loaded with heart, humor, and gentle, well-measured contemplation. The songs celebrate nature and the childlike wonder in us all. It's a hootenanny of guitars, banjos, fiddles, accordion, tuba, trombone, percussion, even pots and pans and kazoos, all with Joe and Justin's tight, brotherly harmonies. While most of the album is foot stompin', there's also a calm feeling that these songs induce, like that of the endless, lazy days of a childhood summer. Standout tracks are many and include "Can You Canoe?" "Haul Away Joe," " Mr. & Mrs. Sippy," "Campin' Tent," " Memphis Town," "Thousand Star Hotel," "Brothers," "Small and Simple," and "Roll On River."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the river songs. River songs are work songs that were very common during the pre-Industrial Revolution days. Laborers like river rafters, steamship pilots, and deckhands would sing to help pass the time. Are there times when you or your family likes to sing to help pass the time? Try singing a song the next time you're doing something that might be boring, like cleaning your room, washing dishes, or folding laundry.

  • The Okee Dokee Brothers have been friends since they were 3 years old. How do you think such a long-time friendship affects their musical relationship, especially when they write songs together as a team? 

  • What songs do you like the best? What makes them so special?

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