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

Billy Kelly – The Family Garden Kid’s CD Review

Photo Credit: John Gardner, Lewisburg Studios


Billy Kelly’s children’s music has been called many things but ‘rough-around-the-edges’ has never been an adjective that had a place in the list.  Until now.  “The Family Garden” is a relaxed-fit effort in which Kelly allows his alter ego to seep into his pristine pop persona resulting in an alluring pastiche of Americana, ragtime, and B-52’s on a power-pop spine.

Where “Welcome to the Happy Club” and “Is This Some Kind Of Joke?” – Kelly’s 1st two albums – relied heavily on wit and humor, “The Family Garden” takes more of a thumbs-in-belt-loops approach to rock-n-roll.  If “Happy Club” is Kelly in his Sunday best, “The Family Garden” has the charismatic kindie rocker in blue jeans, a white tee and a cowboy hat.  It’s attire – and a sound – that suits him well.

Best Moments: A slight Jerry Mungo “In the Summertime” melody shares a picnic blanket with a honkey-tonk-with-horns chorus on “That Old American Flag” – a true Kelly family story.  It might just be the best ever patriotic song in the family music cannon. My girls are now always on the hunt for Old Glory flapping in the wind as we drive, singing “we took that old American flag and we hung it up high / with a rope, and a knot, and a lot of American pride”.

Molly Ledford lends her sweet, conversational voice on “We Could Be Pen Pals” and Kelly adds his unique charm to the song’s bridge while we all “wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait” for his letter to be delivered to the Lunch Money frontwoman’s mailbox.  Examples of Billy Kelly’s subtle brilliance as a songwriter are all over the album, but none are better than “I’ve been thinking that you live so far away / or maybe I do” in the first third of “Pen Pals”.

The Mouse fell hard for the 85-year old Dixieland tune “Coney Island Washboard” six weeks ago and is still enamored with it today, belting out lines like “she played Charleston on the laundry for the boys” whenever the mood strikes her (which is often) while playing a wicked air pipe organ…oh wait, that’s me.

“Why Is The Moon Following Me?”, “It’s Close Enough”, and the title track are three straightforward pop-rock tunes that’ll have your whole car load of kiddos and grown-ups singing along in no time.  Although someone will have to let the moon know that you don’t have an English muffin.  I’m sorry, did I say “straightforward”?  This is Billy Kelly we’re talking about.

The goofiest moment on “The Family Garden” comes towards the end when we learn the, um, truth about “The Invention of the Straw”. Queen Nancy Reagan and comedian Gilbert Gottfried play vital roles. That’s all I’m saying.

Okay, Time to Wrap it Up with a Nice Little Bow: As brilliantly conceived as Billy Kelly’s debut kindie album was, it’s also a claustrophobic sprint through an extremely witty songwriter’s left brain.  The grip loosen a bit on his 2010 follow-up but it’s not until now, on Kelly’s 3rd family album, that we hear him kick up his feet, breath deep and exhale.  This is the genesis of “The Family Garden’s” strength.  His abundant wit is still here, in spades, but it’s the tonality of the music and the charming, loosey-goosey pre and post track studio banter that will come to define the true Billy Kelly experience (one that live audiences have already come to revere).  These glimpses into the other side of Kelly’s personality wouldn’t have had a place on the earlier albums but on “The Family Garden” they not only belong, they make it shine.

*OWTK received a copy of “The Family Garden” for review consideration. The opinions expressed above are honest and unbiased. No arm-twisting took place in the review process.

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