Anybody familiar with The Vinyl Cafe (broadcast every weekend on CBC radio) and the wonderful stories Stuart McLean crafts around Dave, Morley, Stephanie, and Sam will definitely want to get this the latest collection of comic stories featuring this typical Canadian family (well, typical if you sort of forgive Dave's various eccentricities and great talent for getting into trouble). If you are not familiar with this show or these stories --especially if you are a Garrison Keillor Prairie Home Companion fan-- get A Story-Gram From Vinyl Cafe.
A Story-Gram From Vinyl Cafe Inc. is without a doubt the best looking and best packaged comedy CD set I have even seen. The graphics on the package, on the CDs, and for the VCD clip that will only play on a computer all reflect the homey, folksy, charming, and quirky world of Dave, owner of the Vinyl Cafe used record store, his family, and the man who regales us with his various mishaps, Stuart McLean.
Disc One features Dad Is Dying, the story where Sam, showing he definitely has his father's genes, slowly buries himself in the lie that his father is dying and yet milks it (pun intended for those familiar with the story) for all it is worth. Gifted is another story featuring Sam and once again has him trying to overcome his tendency to get himself into trouble -this time from trying to go to a school for gifted kids because he thinks his teacher hates him. Tree of Heaven is a very sweet and yet not cloyingly so story about Dave, his realization that he is getting older, a seed that has germinated in his car, and Dave's ability to give and sustain life. In the hands of any other storyteller this story would end up syrupy and moralistic but McLean has the talent to let the events, the metaphor, the writing and, or course, the telling do all the work.
Disc two of A Story-Gram From Vinyl Cafe Inc. opens with Dave at his weirdest. After accidentally leaving his opinion of a neighbor on her answering machine Dave decides to erase the message. This involves a lot of casing the house, a giant magnet, a ladder, a pair of pants, and a couple of neighbors who, by now, are somewhat used to their very strange neighbor. Labour Pains is a story any expecting father should be made to listen to. In the world of comedy, it ranks right up there with the classic Bill Cosby story Natural Childbirth. Again, Dave gets into trouble, again this is a very funny and sweet story that works on many levels but especially on the comedic level because of McLean's talent for telling it just right. The last monologue and story on this second comedy CD is Morley's Book Club. It begins with Morley finding she has time on her hands and joining a book club held by a bunch of women in power suits and ends with a subtle reminder that books are there to be loved and books clubs a social occasion too.
Something new on this Vinyl Cafe two CD collection of stories is a bonus video of McLean performing a non Vinyl cafe story, I Need To Pee, about drinking eight glasses of water a day. For those of us who have never seen Stuart McLean live this video track (only playable on a computer) is interesting and yet seeing this performance does take away a bit of the magic imagination gives to listening to the Vinyl Cafe every week (I got stuck on the way his pants were a bit too long and bunched up over his shoes, go figure). Again, there are very high production values with this video as your computer screen will take a Vinyl Cafe look while you watch the video.
It would not be surprising to learn that by now McLean is bothered with comparisons to Garrison Keillor and News From Lake Wobegon. It is in a way unfair yet very Canadian to compare our stuff with that of our neighbor to the south's. A Story-Gram From Vinyl Cafe Inc. and the stories Stuart McLean crafts for his show are far superio.
Other Stuart McLean Reviews
Stories from the Vinyl Cafe: a wonderful introduction to the funny world of Stuart McLean
Vinyl Cafe Coast To Coast: fifth comedy CD release of Stuart McLean's funny stories
The Vinyl Cafe: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's best and most loved show
Vinyl Cafe Odd Jobs: Any fan of comedy and a well-told funny story will thoroughly enjoy
The Vinyl Cafe On Tour: Excellent 2 CD set of comic stories
Vinyl Cafe A Christmas Collection: 7 different Dave and Morley Christmas Stories from Stuart McClean and the Vinyl Cafe includes Dave Cooks the Turkey of course.