Washington County-based Trout Fishing in America — named after the Richard Brautigan novel — has recorded several discs aimed for children as well as adults. Before being indie was cool, the Prairie Grove-based duo were issuing records on their own Trout label.
Prairie Grove’s Trout Fishing in America — consisting of Ezra Idlet on guitar and vocal and Keith Grimwood on bass and vocal — also has performed at the White House and on the “Today” show, and got a recent plug in Parade magazine. The duo of Arkie transplants have grown their national reputation through three decades of near-constant touring.
Their 10th album, “InFINity,” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001. But 2004’s “Merry Fishes to All” is the pair’s first holiday-themed album — it, too, recently garnered a Grammy nomination.
Idlet and Grimwood, who has a degree in music and is classically trained, first began playing together in 1976 in a band called St. Elmo’s Fire in Houston.
Teachers at gigs asked if the musicians would be willing to play for their classes — Ezra and Keith were. The pair were soon out on their own. Trout Fishing in America released vinyl and cassettes, and moved to CD in 1990.
“We alternated years there for a while,” Grimwood explains. “We’d put out an album for adults one year, next year one for kids. Next year one for adults, next year one for kids.”
Idlet says, “We’ve kind of blended it at this point. It’s just everybody. It may end up in the kids’ section, but it is for everybody. The music is really sophisticated, but not exclusive ... The best thing is, we’re playing music these days for families; not just kids, not just for adults, but a really inclusive mix of music.”
Trout Fishing recorded “Merry Fishes to All” in Nashville. Since it was April, they got into the spirit by decorating the recording studio with Santas and Christmas trees. The band was surprised to later look outside and see a freak spring snow had fallen. Taking the snowfall as a good omen, “we knew we were doing something right,” they said.
Whether playing goofy kids’ songs or earnest ballads in the mold of Harry Chapin and Jim Croce, Trout Fishing in America exudes a wit and musicianship that come across as effortless. “Merry Fishes to All” offers more, but in holiday wrapping. “I Got A Cheese Log,” “My Birthday Comes on Christmas” and “Santa Brought Me Clothes” echo familiar holiday complaints, but too rarely the subject of holiday songs. “Even wrapped in pretty packages, clothes are still clothes,” they sing. “Anyway you look at it, it’s not what I chose/Santa brought me clothes.”
“Just Because, Mrs. Claus” frets about Santa’s weight while touching on the state’s measuring the body mass index of schoolchildren: “It was decided by decree to measure children in the schools/It only stands to reason Santa must obey these rules,“ observing that Santa “requires the assistance of an elf when his boots become untied.”
Other fun songs like “Bob and Bob” and “The Eleven Cats of Christmas” stand alongside more sober songs like “You Gotta Get Up” and “The Christmas Letter.” Violin, cello and horns complement the pair’s guitar and bass combo.
“If you’re playing music for families, you kind of have a license to go all over the map musically,” Idlet says.
“Which is what we do,” Grimwood adds.
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