Deena Shoshkes is best known as a founding member of the Hoboken-based band, The Cucumbers. That group achieved much in their time on the scene. Founded in the early ‘80s, The Cucumbers signed to Fake Doom Records, a great little indie label that was formed as part of the first grassroots rebellion against the major label apathy. They were joined by other bands such as Life In A Blender, The Whyos and The Delphobics. Since those glorious, early days, Deena and crew have been reinventing their wheel and continuing with intransigent form here in New Jersey. One of the more challenging ways Deena has continued is by injecting family life into her music.
A wife and mother of two budding musicians, Deena came up with the idea of writing rock and roll music in a style that would appeal to children. She came upon this idea in the ‘90s after meeting future bandmate and writing partner, Alice Genese (Psychic TV, Sexpod and also a mommy) on a playground with their kids one summer afternoon. The two set about writing new music and came up with a little idea that quickly caught on and spread into concerts, street fairs, library performances and pre-school tours. Along their zany way, the duo paired up with drummer Frank Giannini (The Bongos) and David Cogswell (The Minx) on keys. The quartet, now called Over The Moon, went on to score the theme song to WNYE-FM and started a serialized radio show along the way. Over The Moon put out several projects on BMG Kidz and have received a number of press kudos. Not a bad bunch of accomplishments for a plan that was born between pushing swings and handing out ice pops.
Over The Moon is also the title of their CD, which features 12 remastered songs ranging from “The Counting Song” to waxing poetic about “My Magic Blanket.” When I first spoke to Deena about this, I really thought that I would not be the correct person to take on the job of writing about it. I have no kids, I drive a sports car and I basically live in bars, concert halls and nightclubs. The only kids I’m around are my nieces and nephews, and a $20 bill usually keeps them in the arcade and away from my flat screen. But Over The Moon caught the 10-year-old in me right away. It features a crisp and sparkly production style (thanks to Cucumber Jon Fried) that fits each song like a warm, fuzzy mitten (sorry, I had to).
Songs such as “A Mouse In Your House” jump along with raucous Farfisa jabs and snappy in the pocket drums and bass. The dual vocal team of Shoshkes and Genese do their call and response thang before saddling up for some great, hillbilly harmonies. The lyrical content is hilarious and appealing, even to big children like me. “A Mouse In Your House” is a shimmering little swinger that will have your sugar-fueled rugrats tearing around the living room all morning long.
“Play And Play” might be aimed at toddlers and the marvels of non-stop playtime, but it’s a standout pop ballad for us old folks as well. Shoshkes and Genese harmonize in seamless unison, pouring sweet melodic country into the subdued, ‘60s pop rhythms of Giannini and Cogswell. Jangly guitars glimmer in the reverb drenched background as pianos roll Charlie Rich style through the middle eight. This is a great song that’s approved for toddlers five to 50.
“Tiny Tinysaurus” is the story of a dancing Tyrannosaurus Rex who apparently has some real moves. I picture a dancing dinosaur as a danger to us all, but Alice and Deena soldier on, turning this into a boogie woogie celebration of barrel house pianos, walking basslines, hand claps and guitar chops and riffs. Its classic 1,4,5, but the girls make it squeal with an imaginative cornucopia of science fiction fun. And by song’s end, that Tyrannosaurus Rex seems to not be eating or maiming anyone, so it’s all good.
“The Mealtime Blues” reminds me of my brother, the kid that never wanted to eat. My father was like Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story when he said, “All right, I’ll get that kid to eat. Where’s my screwdriver and my plumber’s helper? I’ll open up his mouth and I’ll shove it in.” Anyhow, the band swings into the frustrating topic with all the skiffle powered vibe of The Mamas & The Papas. Chimey guitars jangle and break into ultra groovy wah wah leads before heading back to the land of mealtime avoidance. Deena and Alice wring their collective tambourines in frustration at the kid that apparently only lives on soda pop.
Other cool tunes that will be sure to keep your kids busy are the Tupelo rockabilly of “The Train Song.” The tune is faster than a glory hunter, clicking down the track as organs chug out big block chords over the top of single note guitar riffs that come from Mars. Steam whistles wail in the Chattanooga background as drums and bass keep a pace that would make Boxcar Willie hold on for dear life.
Standout track “Moongirl” is an odd and catchy little gem. Its psychedelic, hypnotic swing is a glittering progression accented by satellite driven organs and splashy drums à la Gerry And The Pacemakers. Deena and Alice recreate the hip shakin’ vocal vibe of Judith Durham (The Seekers) as they blast off into the hemisphere of this space aged pop ditty.
“Shake It Baby” is another go-go girl hiccup that shoots out of the gate like a puckish rocket ride. Shoshkes and Genese have that ability to squeak when they need to—and I like it. Lyrics are simple but sensible (I know this is about kids but I’ve gone way past that) and guitars twang and growl between piano passages that would make Jerry Lee Lewis kick his tool over and take notice. “Shake It Baby” is like a fun-filled rollercoaster zipping above the boardwalk in our carnival laden minds.
The CD theme and disc closer, “Over The Moon” takes you out in Mystery Train style as organs orbit the vocal duo. Guitars chug straight up the middle with Elvis Presley E chord attitude as the girls harmonize and whoop it up in the ‘50s echo style of Bobbi and Janis Martin. I like the “hey” and “whoo” tags at the end of the choruses. “Over The Moon” is raw, devilish fun, and it’s a playful calling card tune for the band.
Over The Moon is a raw little piece of ‘60s flavored pop, which demonstrates the sentiment that just because you eventually grow up, doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun. With its sunny attitude and impish delivery, Over The Moon tells me that these “rocker moms” have what it takes when it comes to composing music for all ages on the playground. For more information on this mischievous and frolicsome foursome, take a hop, skip and jump over to cdbaby.com/cd/overthemoon.