***dog on fleas***

It's a shame, really, how much incredible talent goes unnoticed nowadays. Well, not so much unnoticed, but crushed into oblivion by the machine of mediocrity that calls itself "family entertainment". Hey, that's where I come in!

From the heart of Hudson Valley come dog on fleas, a musical ensemble based in Rosendale, New York, with their amazing new CD, Cranberry Sauce Flotilla. Mandolins and fiddles, a big booming upright bass, guitars and banjos, trombones and tubas, a barrelhouse piano, stacks of harmonies...Check out their original tune "The Farmer Is", and their cover of Woody Guthrie's "Bling-Blang", and you would swear you were at Big Pink listening to The Band lay down some tracks. In fact, throughout the whole CD you get the feeling that you've come across a New Orleans parlor band playing a kids' birthday party on a riverboat chugging up the Mississippi River. Except better.

Cranberry is unforgettable for several reasons: the production, the song selection, and the sincerity of the performance. The secret is that the album was recorded with the group performing around a single microphone (sometimes more) in the living room of band leader Dean Jones. Believe me, the fewer microphones you use, the harder it is to balance and mix the sound. But they've done a beautiful job, sounding as if you're hanging out on the couch, listening to the band have fun. A group who have a similar approach to recording and soundscape are North Carolina's Squirrel Nut Zippers, whose song "Hell" you might have heard on the reality series Family Plots.

Originals, covers, and old traditional tunes make up the play list on Cranberry. Bandmember John Hughes' "Happy" may be the most sincere, joyful proclamation of parental glee you will ever hear. No great big hugs from purple dinosaurs, or schmaltzy butterfly kisses here. Debbie Lan takes over vocals on the traditional "Twistification", Hoagy Carmichael's "Lazy Bones", and bandmember David Levine's sweet, sweet "Little Bird". And just try not to sing and dance along to the traditional "Weevily Wheat" or Dean Jones' own "Cranberry Sauce Flotilla" (you'll have to listen to the CD to decode the meaning of the title track's lyrics).

The band are clearly having a great time on Cranberry, and sometimes that means as much to the listener as a group's musical prowess or knowledge of folk tunes. Parents, and especially children, deserve a heartfelt performance from any music they bring into their homes, and dog on fleas certainly deliver on this one.

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