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Jay Mankita - Dogs Are Watching Us: The Lighter Side of Jay Mankita

Dogs Are Watching Us:
The Lighter Side of Jay Mankita

Jay Mankita


Dreams On Tape
68 Strong St.
Amherst,. MA 01002

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Scott Sheldon

Jay Mankita, who for more than 25 years has performed songs that both celebrate and poke fun at the human condition, here presents a collection of his comic songs from throughout his career. Not surprisingly, given Jay's gentle, warm, and homey style, these comic songs are funny in an inclusive way: In the grand tradition of a Will Rogers or a Woody Guthrie, Jay uses his comedy to bring down the high and mighty, to make scary things familiar, and to make the listener feel a part of the joke.

Funny songs are best accompanied by jazzy or well-trod generic tunes. Like Tom Lehrer, Jay here draws from the vernacular: Latin, jazz, and even rap. His skillful guitar work is accompanied quietly by understated clarinet, mandolin, backing vocals, and percussion. His friendly tenor is perfect for this sort of easygoing comedy.

All of the songs on this album have kid appeal. (Indeed, Jay does many performances for children, including an environmentally-aware show he calls "The Day The School Went Wild". For example, the second cut, When Death Comes Calling, uses bouncy fingerpicking and a down-home chorus of guy-next-door voices to make death seem no more frightening than a schoolyard game. "When death comes calling," Jay sings, "just put your ruby shoes on, click your heels together and wiggle your toes, say there's no place like home…"

They Lied is the sort of populist ballad that could have been written by Woody Guthrie. It condemns our current administration without preaching, simply by bringing them down a notch, saying lying "ain't nothing new. That's what politicians do…they've been lying since 1492."

The longest song on the album is The Cliché Song, a very clever audience-participation piece in which the audience is asked to guess which Cliché the characters in the story have acted out (for example, when the an army of bugs starts to crawl up our hero's jeans, the audience yells out "ants in his pants"!).

Several of the songs bear comforting messages: Tracy At The Bat counsels that playing your best and good sportsmanship are more important than winning; Tough Guy reveals that even people who act tough have a soft side ("Don't tell the boys- I appreciate ballet!"). Little Soap is an allegory about getting what you wish for... and accepting it if you don't.

Jay's parody of Julie Gold's From A Distance, titled From A Dog's Stance, does suffer from the plight of funny songs based on a pun...that is, it's often hard to spin an entire three-minute song from one play on words. Just so, From A Dog's Stance gets an early laugh by proposing that dogs' only thoughts are for their next meal, but doesn't really take the pun any further.

This is an album that will tickle both children and adults, and leave them comforted, entertained, and even a bit uplifted.

Track List:

  • Illegal Aliens From Outer Space
  • When Death Comes Calling
  • They Lied
  • Cliche Song
  • Tracy At The Bat
  • Tough Guy
  • Little Soap
  • Big Debut
  • Back At The Beginning
  • From A Dog's Stance
All songs by Jay Mankita

Edited by:David N. Pyles

Copyright 2006, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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