May 15, 2016
The Okee Dokee Brothers 'Saddle Up' For Their Latest Cowboy-Themed Release

The Okee Dokee Brothers want you get outside and take your kids with you. They hope they can lure families to enjoy the great outdoors one folk song at a time.

The Minnesota-based folk duo write and perform music that is smart, singable, and friendly to children and the adults who are often captive audiences to playlists geared for little ears. Much of it is styled after traditional Appalachian music with elements of Western campfire and trail songs incorporated to make the tunes feel both comfortably familiar and at the same time new enough to be intriguing.

In spite of their noms de frets, they are not brothers. In fact, they're close friends, having known each other since the age of three. Growing up together in Denver, Colorado, Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander shared an idyllic childhood exploring the wild areas near their homes.

As professional musicians, they originally set out to be Bluegrass musicians. In 2010, they took a trip along the Mississippi River, where they encountered musicians and others who incorporated work songs in their daily lives. This journey informed their first themed children's album. Can You Canoe? consisted of a collection of songs that took listeners down the Mississippi River, introducing them to the people and songs they met along the way.

Robust sales and positive critical attention encouraged the Okee Dokee Brothers to release yet another album. Two years later, they followed up with a similarly constructed collection of songs about the Appalachian Trail. Meeting with professional trekkers, artists, and musicians inspired their next collection Through the Woods. They not only introduced a new generation of standards like "Big Rock Candy Mountain" as well as original compositions, their ethnographic approach garnered them accolades from a number of parenting groups and a thumbs up from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. As of 2014, the Okee Dokee Brothers could now add "Grammy Winners" to the descriptors on their CD covers and press releases.

Saddle Up is their third album. This time, the boys headed west, talking to ranchers, trail riders, Native American dancers, cancioneras, and various other souls who live and create the Western U.S.

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There is much to recommend the Okee Dokee Brothers' latest collection, Saddle Up. The 41-minute suite of old and new cowboy songs, Native American vocables (vocable is the correct term for Native American syllabic chant), and Mexican canciones is catchy and cheerful without being saccharine. It is lyrically complex enough to be engaging with the wry touches that are worthy of Bob Wills his most arch. The mellow, accessible vocal range of the songs make them easy to sing.

Fans of the Okee Dokee Brothers' earlier CDs will not be disappointed. Newcomers who are used to children's music that leans more towards pop or gentler styles may find "Saddle Up's" twangy, swing-inflected, country-flavored singalongs an acquired taste, especially if there is already a predisposition to dislike country music. There is also the matter of the inclusion of children's voices. For some adults, this is the vocal equivalent to nails on a blackboard and even some children prefer their kids' tunes without the inexpert sound of other young'uns warbling along. Luckily, this particular touch is only present on a couple of tracks and the interludes are brief enough that it will most likely only minimally interfere with anyone's enjoyment of the songs.

"Saddle Up" is recommended for parents who have fond memories of "The Oregon Trail" and a yen for exposing their children to a more acoustic, Americana-influenced genre of music for road trip playlists and family music nights. If that's your cup of tea -or coffee brewed over a campfire- pull on your favorite hiking boots and join the Okee Dokee Brothers in the great outdoors.

[Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images]