Review by Ali
Professor Banjo was one of the first kindie music acts that my son and I saw together. Although Professor Banjo has moved on to wetter pastures (now living in Vancouver B.C.), we are lucky to have him return to Portland for semi-regular musical performances. And even when he’s not around, we get the live Professor Banjo experience with his newest CD, Professor Banjo – Live in Seattle! which, true to title, was recorded live in Seattle during a sold-out show at Empty Sea Studios.
The CD is relatively short at six songs, but it wonderfully captures Professor Banjo’s gentle demeanor and ease with children, as well as his impressive banjo playing. You can tell that he is having as much fun as the children – making jokes, telling stories and anecdotes, and all the while speedily strumming out a steady hum of banjo tunes.
Several of the songs rely heavily on audience participation – no chickens or banjos grow in the garden. What else doesn’t? The sophisticated Seattle crowd calls out everything from balls to sitars. My son Grady in the backseat calls out “green monster trucks,” “orange monster trucks,” and “monster trucks.” Professor Banjo sings another song in which the audience calls out their favorite animal for him to turn into a rhyme. (“I wish I was a naked mole rat over there. Oh I wish I was a naked mole rat over there. If I was a naked mole rat over there, I wouldn’t have any hair! Oh I wish I was a naked mole rat over there.” ) Which highlights another great thing about this CD – it allows for “audience” participation even for the at-home crowd. Grady and I have been having fun making up rhymes for other animals not called out in the song.
Professor Banjo sings a few traditional jug band and folk songs on this album as well – for instance, Blues in a Bottle (cleverly recalibrated as Blues in a Sippy Cup). And he sings his original tune Let’s Grow Beards, passing out beards for the children in the audience to don before getting started.
I really enjoy this CD, and thankfully too since Grady will not let us listen to anything else in the car at the moment. (Although he refuses to give Professor Banjo the honorific, calling him Mister Banjo. A Portlander at heart, that kid.) The CD highlights Professor Banjo as a talented musician as well as a talented performer – two qualities that don’t always go hand-in-hand. The one downside is that it makes you miss the days when Professor Banjo was playing weekly shows over in our neck of the woods!
Professor Banjo – Live in Seattle! will be available on CD Baby on July 1. Head out to the Kennedy School on Thursday, July 5 at 6 PM for the free CD release party! And find more about Professor Banjo on his website.