OWTK Kindie Album Reviews

The Golden Age of Family Music Report Card – February 2013

Let’s just face the facts, shall we? OWTK has changed.

I will continue to be family music’s toughest critic and most fearless champion (patent pending), but the long form reviews I absolutely do enjoy writing may not be in the cards going forward. At least not as often (often, lately, being *maybe* one per month). My plate here and elsewhere is as full as it has ever been, and I am beyond grateful and happy about that.

So I thought, instead, I would try this, a monthly report card of sorts, magazine-style, with brief(ish) capsules of what is great right now in the Golden Age of Family Music. Of course, I have a monthly podcast that allows me to more easily share with you the best and brightest of the present, past and future of kindie music. That OWTK Kid’s Music Monthly Podcast (which you should totally subscribe to, like, RIGHT NOW…it is free, you know) also allows you and your kids to dive into the kiddie music pool without dedicating 15 minutes of your time reading 1000 words on a single CD. I understand that that might not always be plausible for you on your end, and still parent/work/teach/cuddle/etc, and is getting less feasible for me to pull off too.

But the pen keyboard is still mighty, so I will attempt these short form CD reviews bunched together at the end of each month. Sound alright?

I will still publish, from time to time, big pieces on a single album as dictated by the likes of Can You Canoe? or Lullaby, as well as ONE TRACK MIND features on single songs. For everything else in between, I give you the GOLDEN AGE OF FAMILY MUSIC REPORT CARD.

kidQuakeCover

The Not-Its! KidQuake!

My hard drive crashed in late 2011. I lost the Superchunk Majesty Shredding record I had just recently acquired as an mp3 download. But then, last month, the hand of Amazon.com gently touched my shoulder, and I got it back. This album review starts there.

So I began, once again, binge listening to Superchunk, one of the original bands to first hold my hand and usher me down indie rock’s golden path.  And then KidQuake! arrived in my mailbox. Serendipitous, no doubt. The Chapel Hill, NC –> Exton, PA –> Seattle, WA connection was fated to occur. It also helped that The Not-Its! had just made and sent me their finest album, start to finish, to date. A driving, Superchunkian force of youthful energy and giddy excitement, KidQuake! fails to deliver a killer anchor song like “First Kid in Outer Space” or “Mathematics” or “Puppy Dog”, but it doesn’t ever dip in quality as previous Not-Its! album were prone to do.

First single, “Busy,” is a ska-lite rumination on the hectic nature of family life. Instead of preaching, the song holds up a mirror, and the results are sublime. Even though pinball wasn’t my game of choice, “Full Tilt” brings me back to my childhood spent in the suburban mall arcade, anxiously looking for stray quarters in pay phones so that I might give Spy Hunter one more try. I don’t know if the Seattle quintet is for or against participation trophies, but the song of the same name lets you insert your own opinion with ease. Personally, I hear Danny, Sarah, and the gang making fun of the culture that doesn’t allow kids to fail or ever once walk away from an organized adult-lead activity with nothing more than scars, laughs, new pals, and new skills.

The Not-Its! still melt your face off with a pair of shredding electric guitars, and kick your ass with a pounding rhythm section, but on KidQuake! they show off their songwriting growth which makes the album a winner legitimately deserving of a towering trophy.

catdoormansongbook

Cat Doorman Cat Doorman Songbook

To know only Wiggles and Fresh Beat is to know nothing of elegance.  But this is 2013 and there are folks like Portland’s Cat Doorman making music for modern families, meaning the dictionary of kid’s music descriptors has been expanded. Of course we know that words like elegance and texture are not foreign to the modern children’s music community, but when the chance comes to utilize them, I still get tingly.  I’ve got that chance again, when discussing the Cat Doorman Songbook.

To know Cat Doorman is to know Etsy on mp3; hand-stitched and Pinterest-worthy. Elegant. Textured.

Historically speaking, it is impossible to ignore the name Carol King when hearing “my favorite old jeans / well they’re ripping at the seams / but I find that I admire their decay” on “Two Old Shoes.” The piano and solo voice is traded for a strummed ukulele and multi-tracked vocals, but the closet door remains ajar on the album’s standout “Let’s Get Dressed Up.”  More recently, Lori Henriques and Elizabeth Mitchell are relevant too for they also fancy the writing of songs that exude an air of timelessness and grace.  In the children’s literature world, there is Cynthia Rylant’s Mr. Putter & Tabby book series that presents to children an appreciation for simpler, elegant things like naps, afternoon tea, and baking pies for your neighbor.  This is what Cat Doorman means to us. We may not listen every day, we may not put this CD on in the car, but at dinner time, in the quiet hours tucked inside a weekend morning and just before books at bedtime, the Cat Doorman Songbook lives and breaths in and out at a pace that soothes us all. This is what family music is capable of, and it has never sounded more lovely.

Steve Songs Orangutan Van

SteveSongs Orangutan Van

What Steve Roslonek does is admirable. He walks the TV music tightrope of being earnest yet genuine, educational but not at the expense of entertaining, and sweet without coming off as an awkward cheesebag. Sure, I could do without the flutes and the mid-song website shout outs, but SteveSongs music is professionally tight with wordplay that doesn’t condescend. And there’s the puppet. Normally, an artist would lose me right there but SteveSongs folds in Silly, his recurring co-star, deftly and with the kind of casual humor that makes kids laugh and has parents, or at least this one, chuckling alongside them.

The lead track from SteveSongs’ latest album Orangutan Van is a perfect example of all of this.  On “Recess Rocks,” Roslonek teams up with Anand Nayak (of Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem) to create a strong, upbeat jam about, well, the glory of recess at school, that comes damn close to being goofy-in-a-bad-way but thankfully never falls off that ledge. The spirit of collaboration stays put as Secret Agent 23 Skidoo lends his kid-hop chops on “Superhero You” (cue the flutes), an original alphabet song with Silly, and again with Anand on the competitive, and hilarious “Song Without a Rhyme” which hears each trying to trick the other into finishing lyrics with cheap, obvious rhymes.

There is something to be said for this kind of front-of-the-lunch-line music. It WANTS to be good and liked, and while these songs don’t trade in abstractions, and no one would ever accuse them of being ‘artsy’ (flutes don’t count), young kids will react positively and parents, who may not leave Orangutan Van spinning in the car after the kids have been deposited at school, can still appreciate the Triple-A radio quality of the music…if not the flutes.

Watch the video for “Recess Rocks”.

Billy Kelly Again

Billy Kelly AGAIN!!!

At this point in the game, there does appear to be a Billy Kelly formula for making Americana-tinged, piano-laced pop music for families. But, unlike some artistic formulas (see: Pinkalicious, Purplicious, and so on), this one isn’t even a teensy bit forced. You see, Billy Kelly IS a hilariously clever gent, quick-witted and impossibly happy. So when he writes songs for kids and their owners, it is only natural that one of them will be an ode to butter, yet another will be titled “Don’t Tell Me That I Don’t Know What I Know”, and assumed that you’ll get some giddy whistling interspersed throughout, a talking missing sweater that “looks good from the front / looks better from the back”, and a mid-song arena rock style shout out to Schenectady, NY for no apparent reason. Yeah, he colors outside the lines but the pictures, er songs, still come out beautiful.  AGAIN!!! is for anyone who loves to laugh, whistle, tap toes, and/or laugh some more. Or should I say laugh again and again!!!

*These albums were sent to OWTK for review consideration. The opinions expressed above are honest and unbiased. Yes, I really dislike flutes in my rock music. Sorry Jethro Tull.

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