January 12, 2006


Dog Train. Songs and illustrations by Sandra Boynton. Workman. $17.95.

     Hooray!  Boynton’s back!  Not that she has ever really been away – but everything new from Boynton is a cause for at least an itty-bitty celebration.  In the case of Dog Train, make it a biggy-wiggy one.

     This is the third book-and-music production from Boynton, after Rhinoceros Tap (originally a book and audiocassette, later reissued as book and CD) and Philadelphia Chickens.  The Boynton humor and charm remain intact in this self-described “wild ride on the rock-and-roll side.”  If Rhinoceros represented a Boyntonian reinterpretation of traditional kids’ songs and Philadelphia her look at Broadway musicals, Dog Train is Boynton’s take on the commercial music business.  It even features some of the well-known denizens of that business: Hootie & the Blowfish, Kate Winslet, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, and many more.

     The songs’ words are presented in a “Deluxe Illustrated Lyrics Book of the Unpredictable Rock-and-Roll Journey.”  The title song, for instance, begins, “Along about midnight when it’s dark, dark, dark,/there’s a long, low whistle and a faraway bark.”  The illustration of dogs leaning out train windows is pure Boynton, as is the pig-filled one for “(Don’t Give Me That) Broccoli,” with its stirring words, “Yes, I know I’ve never tried it, but it doesn’t look right.”  Equally wonderful are the lyrics to “Boring Song” (sung antiphonally by Lawrence and Gorme): “This song is so boring/and I’m boring, too./Won’t you let me be boring/so boring for you?”

     There is not even the pretense of a plot here, although “Cow Planet” (sung by Billy J. Kramer) comes in parts one, two and three, and there’s a brief and portentous opening number, lasting all of 40 seconds, called “Thus Quacked Zarathustra.”  Boynton’s illustration for this one shows ducks singing with cow backup, while bemused dogs look on saying, “Beats me!”  “I have no idea.”  “Strauss?”  It’s adorable, but no more so than “Penguin Lament,” whose chorus goes, “I’m a little too cute./Oh, yes, I know./I’m all dressed up,/but I’ve got no place to go.”

     The music is well done and more mainstream than you would expect the fringes of rock-and-roll to be – but of course what’s “fringe” here is the Boynton humor, not the notes to which it is set.  All the performers seem to have a wonderful time delivering the lines (and who wouldn’t love singing such words as, “My old sneakers are friends of mine—you can’t trust any shoes that shine”?).  The tunes are given in a “sing and play along” section toward the back of the book, and if you absolutely insist on something reasonably serious here, there is a final section called “About the Artists” with actual photos of the singers, on none of whom Boynton has drawn even a single mustache.  What restraint!  Thankfully, it’s about the only restraint shown in this otherwise unrestrained series of odes to the many aspects of musical ridiculousness.  Dog Train is a treat indeed – perfect for, as the book itself says, “children and vintage children.”

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