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Fishin' Folk

Ma, Pa and Jr. will love Trout Fishing in America's feel-good sound

The phrase "resists easy categorization" is an overused cliche for describing an artist with an eclectic sound. Yet the term makes sense when talking about Trout Fishing in America. After all, even this duo of Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet struggles sometimes to define the music they create. In various interviews they've used catchphrases such as "acid vaudeville," "general practitioners" and "multidimensional." And, while helpful, those descriptions are always spoken with a touch of sarcasm.

In a recent interview, the band settled for the words "Trout music," which is certainly easier to say than the kind of multiword, multihyphenated description necessary to encompass all the styles making up the Trout Fishing in America musical experience.

"It's not just that we're trying to think of the weirdest things we can to put into the music," says Grimwood. "It really makes sense. And it makes sense when you listen to it. You won't be able to tell what kind of music it is. It's 'Trout music.' "

The unique characteristics of Trout Fishing go beyond describing song styles. For starters, there's the physical appearance of the twosome. Idlet, at six-feet-nine, towers over Grimwood, who tops out at five-feet-five-and-a-half-inches tall.

The instrumentation also makes Trout Fishing in America hard to pin down. The predominant format is acoustic, with bassist Grimwood and guitarist Idlet generating a good deal of volume and momentum for having just two instruments. But the duo doesn't hesitate to bring in a rhythm section on records for songs that require a bit more muscle. As such, any easy categorizing as folk goes out the window. And the elements of rock, blues, jazz, world beat, reggae and other styles that filter into the mix only further frustrate those who like music neatly packaged.

Speaking of packaging, Trout Fishing is one of the few groups that can truly say it has an all-age audience. Since 1977 Grimwood and Idlet not only have played concerts for adults in bars and other venues, but they also have put on shows for kids, their parents and their teachers at schools and other like facilities.

The Trout Fishing catalog reflects this reality, with four studio CDs -- Reel Life, Who Are These People? Over the Limit and Truth Is Stranger Than Fishing -- that feature adult music and three -- My World, Mine! and Big Trouble -- that focus on children's. The group's most recent release, Family Music Party, though, is the first Trout release to blend both worlds. This 16-track live album was drawn from a television concert on PBS in 1998 and reflects just how successfully Grimwood and Idlet skip over, around and through musical categories.

"This is the first time we've really tried to mix it up and just shake it up and put it all on one CD," Grimwood says of the album, which was recorded on the Austin City Limits soundstage. "That's why it's called Family Music Party. So often our shows just cross right over age generations."

Because Family Music Party includes material drawn from both the children's and adults' repertoires of Trout Fishing, it provides perhaps the best snapshot of the many facets of the group's music. Its songs cover everything from rambling folk ("My World") to rock ("I Can Dance") to country ("11 Easy Steps") to tango ("Mine!) and a few stops in between. Family Music Party does lean a bit more heavily on silly humor than does the typical adult-oriented album or show, but the record nicely captures the witty banter and interactive atmosphere Grimwood and Idlet foster live.

That said, Family Music Party is the rare kids-oriented CD that a parent will like. Part of this universal appeal stems from the approach Grimwood and Idlet take to performing for kids.

Unlike many children's performers, Grimwood and Idlet don't speak down to the audience. There's plenty of sophisticated humor in songs such as "What I Want Is a Proper Cup of Coffee" (one of the nuttiest sing-alongs ever) and "The Window" (which cleverly alters the story lines of a variety of famous nursery rhymes). At the same time, such songs are so clearly presented that the lyrics don't go over any youngster's head.

There are also a few ballads drawn from the adult repertoire -- "Count on Me," "Lullaby" and "No Matter What Goes Right" -- that illustrate the more serious and sensitive side of Trout Fishing in America.

Grimwood and Idlet also don't worry about blending educational or moral lessons into their songs; instead, they let a spirit of fun carry their music along. This, in itself, differentiates them from other children's performers.

"I remember we did an interview for a kids radio station," the taller, Idlet, says. "And the big question the woman had to ask us at the end of the interview was 'Do you have a message for the children of the community?' "

" 'A message, what message?' " the littler, Grimwood, says, picking up the story. "They keep wanting your song to teach them how to do something, like how to brush their teeth or make lunch. But they keep wanting these messages. And I've got to tell you, when that lady asked us that question, we kind of just sat there and stared at her. We didn't know what to say because our music isn't very message-oriented. Then Ezra finally leaned over the microphone and he said, 'Uh, have a good time and enjoy your life.' That was his message to the kids of the city. She was disappointed it wasn't something more specific, like, you know, goal-oriented."

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