Judge Kristin Munson says "yes" to punning!
I'm talking about grownups, what they call adults/They're very strange, but it's not their fault.
It's funny how much faith we put in nostalgia. We collect DVD sets of Saturday morning cartoons and buy new versions of the toys we played with because of the fuzzy glow it gives us. Some childhood favorites stand up to our memories, while others are sadly disappointing—when did Jack the Giant Killer become such an awful movie? I was 6 when Bill Harley came to my school, and I must have seen him perform four or five more times on the Rhode Island storytelling circuit since then. A battered cassette of his Monsters in the Bathroom album is still rattling around my house somewhere, and I can quote a disturbing number of lyrics from Harley's songbook, which is more then I can say for that other family-friendly '80s phenom, Raffi.
Unlike Dora, Elmo, or any of those other shrill kiddie acts that make you want to take a claw hammer to your stereo, Bill Harley writes songs that are catchy but never obnoxious and spins stories that target the wistful part of your psyche like a nostalgia-seeking missile. Harley has put out dozens of albums, written a few books, even taken home a couple Grammys in his 25 years as a performer, but Yes to Running! Bill Harley Live is his first DVD. When you sit down to watch it, you'll wonder what took him so long.
By now, Harley is an old pro at capturing an audience, so recording him onstage in Montana as he plays off the crowds' reactions is like seeing a wild animal in its natural habitat. The live show has an easy rhythm that transitions smoothly from play-along songs like "I Like to Sing" and "Is Not Is Too"—which keep the wandering attentions of younger kids—to sillier tales of underwear-thieving pirates and sibling rivalry that break up the two longest stories.
Those two stories "The Teacher's Lounge" and "Mrs. Ammons and the Boys' Room," clock in at around 40 minutes each and are the best part of the live show. Harley is the main character in his classroom stories, and since he was not the most well-behaved kid, he always has plenty of funny anecdotes to pepper the narrative with. In these two tales, Little William's feelings of giddiness at the last week of fourth grade are thwarted by an uptight substitute teacher, and the fear that someone could die from a playground wound sends him and his goody-two-shoes classmate on an epic journey to the forbidden staff lounge. It doesn't seem like much, but all the details Harley uses to flesh out the main story put you right back in your own elementary school days.
Because Harley trusts that children are smart enough to keep up, he never dumbs his language down, and he uses plenty of pop culture in-jokes that will leave parents just as tickled as their offspring. In the audience, you can see kids as young as three to grandparents in their 70s. Seeing people in their 30s who knew the words to all the songs made me feel a lot less dorky for watching the disc by myself
There's a great mix of old and new material from the last two decades here although, at 112 minutes, it's going to test the attention spans of younger kids, especially the ones raised on 10-minute television shows. The complete concert lineup goes like this:
I Like to Sing
The program itself is in the standard widescreen, 2.0 stereo combo, with home video of Harley answering kids' questions and a 20-minute career retrospective as extras. The disc itself comes in a flimsy, and I mean flimsy, cardboard digipak. Even in the snug embrace of a bubble envelope, on the short voyage from Verdict Central to my place, the back flap was mashed in and a few teeth were lost off the plastic hub. Luckily, the disc made it through unscathed.
Despite the flimsy case, Yes to Running! Bill Harley Live is free to go, as my father has first dibs on it as soon as my review is done. He took me to most of those Bill Harley concerts, and apparently he's not immune to nostalgia either.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Round River Records
• Bill Harley: Songs and Stories for Everyone
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