What did people do before television? Well, there was radio. What did people do before radio? Well, there was music. For centuries. It’s the most constant form of entertainment and it can be made by anyone. That doesn’t mean that just anyone should make music, but that’s another story. You can make music anywhere, using almost anything as your instrument. And in the dark and cold of winter, that’s a delightful distraction from the possibility of frostbite and worse.
Which brings us to Wisconsin’s Duke Otherwise, who recorded his third CD, Kith and Kin, in a lake cabin in the middle of a frigid winter. His name seems to indicate jazz roots (i.e., Ellington vs Otherwise), but Mr. Otherwise instead harkens back to folk traditions on tracks like “Yodeling Lament,” which ends with a manic rap riff.
Spoiler alert: Although Mr. Otherwise claims a proficiency in many vocations, the yodeling on this song was completed by a less yodeling-impaired performer.
Mr. Otherwise talks the talk for young audiences. When a third grader’s fancy turns to their teachers, he delivers the wistful “Elementary Crush,” where the protagonist imagines marriage will end his penmanship homework (except for carving their names in a tree). There’s an interstitial saga of a mother passive-aggressively ordering her son Billy to put down his sister (no spoiler here). The siblings on “Twins” insist they are alike, while the lyrics say otherwise. “Eats Like You” spins some fanciful wordplay describing animals and their dining habits in comparison to a picky child:
I know a ferret who likes to eat carrots
A popcorn-poppin’ parrot who never wants to share it
A muffin-eating puffin, a turkey who stuffs himself with stuffing
I know a turtle who loves to eat tufu
But I’ve never met anyone who eats like you
Sentimentally, Mr. Otherwise goes back to the genesis of music as original entertainment on Kith and Kin‘s closer, “Always Home.” He sings about everyone living so far away and how cold it is outside (although it’s ostensively about animals in their shells and burrows). The modern world has become a smaller place through social media and interconnectivity, but Mr. Otherwise shows that children (most of whom don’t have Facebook accounts) are acutely aware of the enormity of our planet. He addresses their concerns with a deft touch, humor, and even a tap dance. It may not be a frigid night in a lakeside cabin, but Kith and Kin sounds like home anywhere.
Here is a live performance of Duke singing “What Kind of Hairdo Do You Do?”: