2 out of 4 stars
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“Swampwise” Secrets, Songs & Stories from “The Land of the Trembling Earth!” by Okefenokee Joe is a four disc collection of original songs and quirky stories about swamp life in the southeastern United States. Okefenokee Joe is the alter ego of Dick Flood. Flood was prolific in the early country music scene, known for his singing and crafting of chart-topping songs for other artists. He was a regular on the Grand Old Opry and spent many years touring nationally and internationally with his band, The Pathfinders. Despite being active in the Nashville country scene, Dick Flood never got that big break so many performers try to attain. In 1973, in his early forties, Dick packed up his Volkswagen Thing and faded into Georgia’s Great Okefenokee Swamp and became Okefenokee Joe.
Okefenokee Joe spent the next ten years of his life acting as a custodian for the swamp and the many animals that call it home. After leaving the swamp, he continued his work as a wildlife educator. He combined his love of the swamp and his musical background to craft fun and educational songs about life in the swamp. After finding success on Georgia Public Broadcasting, Okefenokee Joe went on to publish wildlife books and professionally record many of his unique songs. Swampwise is a collection of many of those songs and is interspersed with parables of the lessons he learned while living in the swamp.
All of the songs on the first three CDs are introduced by a story told by Okefenokee Joe. The sound quality during the story portion makes the listener feel like they are at a live event listening to someone up on a stage. The subsequent song builds on the story, often with some lesson to be gained about nature or man’s interaction with the natural world. The collection also includes a bonus CD of songs with no accompanying narration. Many of the bonus songs are stories about the Indians that used to live in the swamps and the contentious relationship that existed between them and the American government.
While listening to the CDs, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the target demographic would be for this production. Many of the songs are acoustic guitar accompanied by prerecorded animal and nature sounds. The inclusion of the nature sounds added a particular level of campiness to the songs. The unique singing style of Okefenokee Joe is a combination of talking, whisper-singing, yodeling, and a narrow baritone range. Songs like “Streak The Bobcat” and “Swampy The Dog” made me think that this collection would be appropriate for a younger audience of nature lovers; however, Swampy was eaten by an alligator and some of the stories have overly detailed accounts about killing wildlife. The album also includes a barrage of near-constant religious allusions. Every story makes reference to the Christian God and how He created and designed all aspects of nature.
Upon listening to all of the CDs, I’m still not sure who the target audience is for this collection. One thing I do know is that I am not that target audience. As someone who loves country, bluegrass, and folk music, this collection was a disappointment for me. While I enjoyed some of the storytelling and learned a lot about the flora and fauna of the southern swamps, the songs were entirely too ridiculous for me to enjoy. Due to the pervasive religious undercurrents present in all of the stories, I would suggest that this would be a good collection to listen to at nature oriented church camps for young children. Adults who enjoy ballads by the likes of Red Sovine and C. W. McCall might enjoy Okefenokee Joe, as well as those looking to reminisce about a beloved Georgia entertainer. Since this collection of CDs seems like it would appeal to such a narrow audience, if am giving it 2 out of 4 stars.
Swampwise Secrets, Songs & Stories from the land of the Trembling Earth
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