Shel Silverstein's UNDERWATER LAND, CD/book of hilarious kids' nautical music

The Underwater Land project recently supplied me with an MP3 download of their CD, "Underwater Land," created by the late, great and sorely missed Shel Silverstein. This was the pitch:

I'm writing you on behalf of the Shel Silverstein estate's Underwater Land project. Underwater Land is a kid's music project created by Shel Silverstein. This project was Shel's final major music project and also his final children's recording. Shel wrote Underwater Land, produced it, travelled to Nashville in 1997 to handpick the best musicians and studios there, and sings on several tracks with the primary singer and old friend Pat Dailey. Kim Llewellyn, Shel's longtime graphic designer, designed the lovely 32-page liner notes which features many previously unpublished Silverstein illustrations and all the song lyrics and verse.
And here's my take: this is some seriously awesome kids' music, full of Silverstein's flawless, legendary rhyme, his wicked humor, and some damned fine music and playing beneath it. It's fast, witty, and full of jokes that work on levels that can be appreciated by pre-verbal toddlers -- the broad, comic recitations of songs like "Fish Guts," a kind of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" for the fish-kingdom -- by kids, and by adults, who will appreciate the snatches of extremely grown-up jokes woven into the whimsy.

Some of my favorites: "Dale and Shale," a rapped advertisement for a notional store selling naught but tales (think of Tom Waits's "Pasties and a G-String" except about fish, not strippers); "Captain Octopus" (a rollicking sea chanty recounting the eight things a sailing octopus can do at once); and "Poor Anna," the sob-story of Anna, a flounder from Havana whose love affair is pull of superb and terrible fish puns (every now and again Silverstein and Dailey break each other up on this track, and I defy you not to do the same).

If you're a Silverstein fan, a fish fan, a kid, a grownup with a kid, or have an intact sense of humor, you will enjoy the heck out of "Underwater Land."

Underwater Land (Thanks, Kenyon!)


  1. Hmm…I’m a big fan of Shel, shells, humor, and music. But listening to the samples they provided, I can’t say I’m all that impressed. The songs sound fairly hokey and clunky, and the humor is forced in a tone of voice that is beyond smarmy. “Damned fine music”? Well, I suppose that’s a matter of opinion. But I was disappointed by what I heard considering the author. The comparison to Tom Waits is just downright misleading. That would have been something, and maybe Shel should have striven for a collaboration with Tom. Pat Dailey’s vocals brought the cheese, and kept on serving it to the point of lactose intolerance.

    Considering all the kids music out there from Pete Seeger to TMBG, this was not a CD I would waste my money on. Just my opinion as a musician and a father. To each their own.

  2. I’ve got to have this. My three-year-old is really into “Runny Babbit” and tries to spoonerize things now with some hilarious results.

  3. I had the same fairly visceral response as wylkyn. Silverstein’s humor always ranged from acerbic to goofy, but from the 15 minutes or so I gave the samples (which was about as much as I could handle) this was just a bunch of puns. Shel was one of the first to treat the risk of mortal danger as a taboo thrill for child listeners, but that’s old hat now. Doesn’t feel like there’s too much more there.

  4. Wellllll….

    After listening to the samples, I’d have to say I’ll be sticking with “Yellow Submarine” and “Octopus’ Garden” for my nautically themed kids’ music. You just can’t beat Ringo. I think my boy would be bored by this, but we’re talking about a kid whose favorite song is “Burning Down The House.”

    Sorry, Shel. I heart you a lot.

  5. Wow, this is really cool. It seems to be more narrative based than what I know of Shel’s short, clever quips. Fred the Trout grooves! I’m surprised it’s 12 years old. I’ve never heard of Pat Dailey, but their website makes it seems like they were good buddies.

  6. The songs are punny, sure, but they’re also nautically clever enough to keep your child’s mind moving. “Captain Octopus,” for example, is an imaginative, multitasking romp. “The Minnows” turns cooperation on its head, showing Silverstien’s talent for sneaking dark humor in without poisoning the tune with cynicism.

    Some may find the album hokey or overwrought, but I disagree. Some songs are short and to the point, delivering a characteristic zing that wastes no time. Others range wide and long, full of detail and nuance. Dailey’s voice creates fun characters that will keep kids company as they listen.

    This is good stuff!

  7. For my money, there isn’t a cleverer songwriter and poet than Shel Silverstein. I’m so glad this finally saw the light of day, goofy puns and all.

    for the record:


    Love you Uncle Shel.

  8. I’m a huge Shel fan. I even have the vinyl album of Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball which once belonged to my parents, and that I grew up listening to…but this…this is pretty cheesy. I have a 6 year old, I let him listen to the samples and asked if he wanted the CD and he said “Oh no, thank you.” For a kid who loves music and who can quote Shel poems from memory, I think it speaks volumes that he didn’t even want to hear the samples.

    I think the problem is that Shel’s books never talked down to kids. In fact, it was as though there was a conspiracy between the kid readers and the writer *against* the stupid adults. But Underwater Land is voiced in such a way as to make Shel sound condescending.

    Also…oompa tubas should be left to German beer fests and Weird Al.

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