One Night In Frog Town
Philip Pelletier and Various Artists
One World Musical Books
Here’s a work like no other ever to spring from the well of musical creativity that is the Portland (and Oregon) music scene. A children’s book with accompanying CD- with songs and narration. In and of itself, that might not be such big news. But the quality of this effort and the names involved make of this something special. This is a special piece of work in every respect. Many highly respected and well-known Portland musicians participate in this project.
Philip Pelletier is an extremely talented musician/composer/ conductor/producer who has one numerous awards for the short films he has produced in the past. In 1998, he founded Swankytown Studio to showcase his work, coupled with the illustrative prowess of Portlander, Ms. Verne Lindner. Eventually, Pelletier migrated northward from California to the Oregon Coast, where he lives today with his girlfriend Heather Christie- who also contributes vocals to this project.
So, what we have here is a hardbound, high gloss, full-color book, measuring 8½ X 11 inches. A real nice book. Lindner’s illustrations call to mind the work of Dr. Suess. The rhyming style of the story also calls to mind Dr. Suess somewhat, although this story is not as dark as most of his. A CD with seven Pelletier original songs and narration (and occasional background vocals) by Curtis Salgado, no less(!) accompanies the book. A bell tone signifies the turning of each page.
Thirty pages in length and aimed at (roughly) the 4 to 8 years age bracket, Pelletier’s story covers the tale of one Tad, a saxophone playing tadpole, who because of his musical tastes, has a difficult time fitting into frog society in his particular pond. Tad is a very inspired musician who hears “faraway music” to which he jams. His jamming to music that no one else hears is not particularly popular, nor accepted by the other frogs of Frogtown, so Tad sets off in search of the music he hears in his head.
Local saxman Devin Phillips is the musical representative for Tad. And the sax he plays sweet sounds throughout this production. So, Tad begins his journey to find a place where he fits in. He arrives at the Toadstool Tavern, which it turns out, is a blues venue. The venerable Linda Hornbuckle (with Thara Memory contributing trumpet backing) details in no uncertain terms, the pompitous of the blues. In the song “Middle Of The Road,” Hornbuckle’s character explains to Tad that “Life is pretty simple/when your toadstool’s the best/and blue is the color/that’s better than the rest/We’ve got all the answers/as you can see/you can join our party/as long as you agree.”
Tad jams with the blues frogs and determines that the music is fun, but not the only music to be played- which earns him a quick exit from the Toadstool Tavern. Next he meets with classical music snob frogs who live in a tree, and who maintain that their music is superior, in the song “Above It All.” Vocalist Shannon Day (sister of Nu Shoozer Valerie) commits vocals for a Bach-like piece. “We’re the cream of the crop/’cause we’re the ones on top/that’s why we’ll never stop/being above it all.”
Here again, Tad appreciates the music he has encountered, but he is quickly escorted from the tree premises for not accepting that classical music is the “only” music. He moves on upon his journey and eventually encounters the Lily Pad Club, which is a hip hop hangout, which features a rap by Grandmaster Splash and the Amphibious Five (a human beatbox called Fogatron along with Chuck Baliconis‘ funky frog beats), with a vocal by Heather Christie. Here again tad appreciates what he hears- but cannot commit himself to that one music either, which gets him thrown out of that club too.
As might be expected, Tad is pretty depressed at this point. Dejectedly he lets out his feelings. Christie contributes the beautiful vocal to the book’s most charming number- “Alone.” If this project were ever to become an animated short film (which it very well might), this song could easily become an Academy Award contender. Devlin’s mournful sax and Pelletier’s heartfelt keys and guitars make of this song a real winner- in any setting in which it might be found.
After this point of catharsis, all the other frogs in the pond manage to get it together and begin playing with one another, jamming, creating the music that Tad could hear far away in his head. “And just like that/Frogtown changed forever/all from a tadpole/who said ‘never say never.’”
Together the frogs belt out “Frogtown,” with Andy Stokes (formerly of Portland’s best ever funk band, Cool’r) belting out the lead vocal, backed by Day, Hornbuckle, Salgado, Christie and the ubiquitous Victor Morris.
One Night In Frogtown is a parent’s dream. Given children’s propensity for playing a recording over and over and over (potentially driving said parent absolutely bonkers), the songs found here are quite satisfying on an adult level as well as appealing to the sentiments and concerns of a child (not exactly easily done). The story is absolutely kid-friendly and the songs are absolutely adult-friendly. Quite an achievement.
Philip Pelletier and the sterling cast are to be congratulated for a very special project, unlike anything to come out to come out of Portland. Ever. Anyone with children (who can tolerate the mentioning of musical spots like clubs and taverns- the more socially rigid in the world might not), will find something special here. For that matter, pretty much anyone, child or adult should find something alluringly attractive in this wonderful package.