The Best of Mister Rogers – Back In the Neighborhood – Vol. 2
Not necessarily an LP I’d normally review but in the past, I’ve been surprised by how excellent collections like this are. The effort, expertise, musicianship & cleverness. When I was young I loved The Chipmunks but the genius that was Grammy-winner David Seville/Ross Bagdasarian was that the 45s flip side was a piano piece called “Almost Good.” I loved it. I was 9 years old. That piece was jazz. Indoctrination? Yeah – but the best kind. Pass the chocolate milk.
Maybe Fred Rogers heard it too. If you listen to “This Is Just The Day,” & “What Would You Like To Do Today?” the lead-off songs, notice how Mr. Rogers does it. The piano on these songs is bright – a stride jazzy-like piano run. A music lesson hidden in a children’s song.
On a tune as simple as “Perfectly Beautiful Day,” with Cole Porter’s simple structure — if you think Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore, or Anita O’Day with a little scatting could sing this — it would be a genuinely humorous jazz song.
Produced by Cathy Cohen Driz these 20-tunes at 36-minutes comprise Back In the Neighborhood – Vol. 2 (Drops April 7- Omnivore). A companion LP to the Grammy-winning It’s Such a Good Feeling: The Best of Mister Rogers (Best Historical Album 2020). This 2nd volume includes 4 previously unreleased songs.
Rogers innocently sings, teaches & makes learning easier for troubled children. Music can penetrate that way. “It’s a Lonely Kind of Thing,” is a mature lesson that’s not hard to understand. Fred sings with excellent intonation. I hear someone like Louis Armstrong sing this as a guest on Mr. Rogers’ show & that would have struck a chord.
The piano & hi-hat tinkling continues on “Let’s Think Of Something To Do,” & it’s marvelous. Rogers really puts feeling into each tune. Songs can be silly – they’re aimed at a juvenile audience. What’s impressive is how Rogers uses his imagination to make each song work & deliver their message. Even David Seville/Ross Bagdasarian’s 1959 children-aimed instrumental “Almost Good” had a lesson in it about trying. And Rogers did play host to some jazz players in his neighborhood.
Songs are broken down — when they originally appeared (as early as 1992 & some 2019 except for the previously unreleased tracks). The package is colorful & an essay by former Newsday TV critic Diane Werts discusses the songs & the late Fred Rogers.
Highlights – “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” “What Would You Like To Do Today?” “This Is Just the Day,” “It’s a Lonely Kind of Thing” & “Good People Sometimes Do Bad Things.”
Musicians – Fred Rogers (vocals), Johnny Costa (Musical director/pianist), Bobby Rawsthorne (percussion) & Carl McVicker (bass).
The compilation was produced by Lee Lodyga & Cheryl Pawelski. CD cover photos: Walt Seng courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions.
B&W image with Johnny Costa courtesy of PBS. CD @ https://omnivorerecordings.com/shop/back-in-the-neighborhood/