Best New Children's Music 2012 / Billy Kelly / OWTK Kindie Album Reviews

Billy Kelly – Is This Some Kind of Joke CD Review


The Sound: Tongue-in-cheek pop-rock meant for singing, laughing and pondering.

In the Cafeteria, They Sit With: Recess Monkey, Caspar Babypants, They Might Be Giants

Best Moments: The album’s closer, “Johnny Box,” is a classic American story-song of despair, a search for purpose, redemption and legacy.  Because this 7+ minute epic is a Billy Kelly tune, the tale involves Turtle Wax, storage shelves and moving to Idaho.  In case you haven’t already guessed, Johnny isn’t a recovering addict or a kid who rises from the ashes of a broken home.  Nope, little Johnny has “a heart made out of solid gold cardboard”, because, um, he’s a box.  Think Recess Monkey’s “Sack Lunch” as biography told by Johnny Cash with a Lennon & McCartney fetish while fronting a Real Men of Genius Bud Light Commercial.

Lest you think the off-the-wall references end there…

Dr. Seuss meets a Neutral Milk Hotel-inspired marching band on “The Sky Floats (And So Do Boats)”.  It’s a strange, mischievously contagious number that showcases Kelly’s willingness to write kid’s songs that follow none of the usual scripts.  The 105-second song covers Mozart, death, shiny dimes and isn’t shy about it’s use of the kazoo.  It has the Bear’s stamp of approval – she won’t stop singing it.

While “The Sky Floats” is uniquely Billy Kelly, the piano-driven kinda/sorta title track “Is This a Joke?” is what makes him so darn special.  The song’s dialogue is a bit obtuse, requiring a couple listens before your kids fully “get it”, yet understandable enough as to provide chuckles the first time around.   Then, as is the case with many of his tunes, you’ll discover bite-size nuggets of hilarity and bliss on listens 2, 3 and 4.  It’s like finding $5 in the front pocket of your favorite jeans today, then pulling out a $10 from the back pocket the next time you put ’em on.

Bonus Thoughts: Check out the video below of Billy Kelly performing “The Dance from Outer Space” live at World Cafe Live in Philly on Halloween 2009.  On the album, the backing vocals are female and get more hilarious as the song progresses.  Here, Kelly does double duty raising the pitch of his voice to simulate what, at this point in the song’s infancy, was still just an idea.

Bonus, Bonus Thought: Like his debut, “Is This Some Kind Of Joke?” also features a “cameo” by a U.S. President.  Not sure if this is an intentional theme in his recordings. I kind of hope it is, ’cause I can’t wait to hear, 30 albums from now, the William H. Taft appearance.

Triple Bonus Thought: The packaging of this album is like nothing on your CD rack.  A white sleeve (the 1st 1000 of which are autographed by Billy Kelly) is tucked away inside a waterproof poster.  Once unfolded, you’ll discover Atari-era animations on one side, while the other is an enormous maze with paths to the lyrics for each song (a marker is included).  All this would be amazing at any time in the history of recorded music, that it’s being released in the digital age makes it worthy of note, and praise.  Now, if it was only available in vinyl…

Okay, Time to Wrap it Up with a Nice Little Bow: Billy Kelly follows up his critically acclaimed 2009 kindie debut with another batch of songs heavy on wit, wordplay, and catchy pop goodness that owes a debt to The Monkees (an even bigger debt now, as head Monkee Davy Jones joins Kelly on the duet “Me and My Brand New Haircut”).

Kelly’s songs are constructed not unlike a Christopher Nolan film; you’ll be confused, dazzled, entertained, and will end up falling in love a little bit.  This strength as a clever songwriter may, in the end, also keep some of his youngest listeners at bay.  I’m thinking of the ripe kindie demo of age-4 and under who may not be able to enjoy what Kelly does best, that is to spin multi-layered tales in 2-minute bursts.  That said, if you and your children fancy dry, sometimes sarcastic but always above-board humor, there isn’t another soul alive making music for children quite like Billy Kelly.  And that is not some kind of joke.

To sample all of the tunes and to buy it digitally (although you’d be missing out on the poster/maze), go here.

*Billy Kelly’s “Is This Some Kind Of Joke?” was provided to OWTK for review. The opinions expressed above are unbiased and true – no arm twisting took place in the review process.

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