Saturday, April 29, 2006

***Lunch Money***

It’s crazy how much fun you can have with just a guitar, a bass, brushed drums, and voices! Just ask Lunch Money, a three piece from West Columbia, South Carolina, whose debut kids’ album, Silly Reflection, came out in 2004 on their Squirrel Mechanic Records label. They’re enjoying themselves so much, in fact, you can hear the smile in lead singer Molly Ledford’s voice.

Oh, the memories that accumulate on a “Tricycle” when it’s passed down from family member to family member: a dent in the fender, purple sparkle streamers, a Snoopy sticker and a “Keep On Truckin’” license plate. Here comes the “Caboose”, a finger snappin’, “Fever”-inspired ode to the last car on the train. And rainy days are cool because you get to twirl your “Umbrella” and watch everyone act like Gene Kelly.

“Roller Coaster” dares you to put your ride ticket where your mouth is, quit hanging out by the tea cups, and get on board! Yes, daddy-o, “We Have Rhythm”, from birth, it seems, where we learned it from our own heartbeat. “Got To Watch Out” made me think of one of those pastoral songs Ray Davies wrote for the Kinks in the mid- to late-60’s. And the best reason to “Want a Dog”? Well, you can’t walk a hamster down the street!

Low key, cheerful, lyrically inventive, funny: Silly Reflection is a great debut from Lunch Money, and hopefully a reflection of more silliness to come (wow, that was bad)!

Kudos to drummer Jay Barry for his CD package design. The layout and graphics are first class!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

***Jamie Barnett***

Please, _______ (you can fill in the blank with whichever corporation-created children’s music creature or group you want), could you make just one CD with at least a tenth the sincerity of Jamie Barnett?!? On his newest album, Just Look At You, check out Jamie’s playful, inventive lyrics; his deep, ringing acoustic guitar; his beautifully arranged tunes – like Leo Kottke without the fretboard gymnastics, and John Prine without the piss and vinegar.

Murrieta, California, educator Jamie Barnett sings songs about sledding, eating pancakes, folding clothes, hanging out with Dad as he visits various members of the extended family, all under the umbrella philosophy of living life in the moment, appreciating even the smallest events and tiniest slices of time we have together.

Feeling down? A little blue? That’s ok, “My Laughter” reminds us that our smiles are always right under our noses, and that if we just “Step Outside” every once in a while, we will notice the beautiful world all around us. One of the best tunes is “Sun Shines”, a serene song on which Jamie’s niece Alyssa sings. You can’t even call this song a “lullabye”; it’s more like a mantra, a Zen way of looking at life.

Both the title track and “Big Brown Eyes” are great examples of Jamie’s living-life-in-the-now immediacy, while “381 Days” gives kids the facts about the Montgomery bus boycott and encourages them to ask questions about our history and the choices we made.

Just Look At You is a very personal CD, from the family photos to the singing help to the philosophies of life. A beautiful album with a beautiful message.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

***Frances England***

Sometimes spaces between notes are as powerful as the music itself. Frances England has created a powerfully simple, simply powerful collection of songs for her debut album, Fascinating Creatures. Other than Ms. England’s voice, all you’ll hear are strummed guitars, maracas, the occasional clave, and a rare visit from a drum set. Ghostly, distant notes float across many of the songs, along with faint, whispery backing vocals. If Daniel Lanois produced Sam Phillips, the result might sound a little like Fascinating Creatures, but to be honest this CD is so wonderfully unique, it’s hard to properly describe.

Suburban childhood activities abound: planting a little garden; painting; riding a tricycle; wondering where trains, planes and boats go when they leave our sight; reading favorite books; eating pancakes.

The highlight is the title track, a song that should be on everyone’s best-of-2006 list. Dreamy, unadorned, cosmic…one can’t say enough about this song. The inadvertently audible hum of a guitar amp and the imperfect tempo make the tune even more beautiful. The buzzy chorus of “Busy As a Bee” will make a great Toddler Time sing along, and on “Charlie Parker” you get a who’s who of bebop, plus the scat chorus is impossible not to sing along with.

At about 29 minutes, Fascinating Creatures is a short but quietly powerful little CD. If you’re alone, listen to the album on your headphones while you lie on your back in the middle of a grassy field. If you’re hanging out with your kid, play this record while you color together or plant seedlings in an old egg carton. This is a truly indie-rock kids’ album, and a fantastic one at that. Oh, and be sure to check out Ms. England’s great cover artwork!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

***The RTTs***

Who is the best bar band in the world? Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band? Elvis Costello’s Attractions? Neil Young’s Crazy Horse? That debate will go on forever. The best (juice & snack) bar band in the U.S.A.? The RTTs! That’s right boys and girls, rock and roll for the whole family!

The RTTs, aka the Rhodes Tavern Troubadours of Washington, DC, released their rockabilly-flavored contribution to the world of children’s music, Turn It Up, Mommy! back in late 2003. Mix together the retro rock of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds’ super group Rockpile, the countrypolitan twang of Rodney Crowell, and some tasty guitar licks a la Pete Anderson, Dwight Yoakam’s guitarist, and you have a loose estimation of the RTTs sound.

The set kicks off with “Snack Time”, in which a kid wonders aloud, “Who was the genius that came up with juice boxes, string cheese, and Goldfish?” Next, you can hear the swampy lope of Creedence Clearwater Revival in “Learning My Letters”, a tune that details the frustration of deciphering the 104 squiggles that make up the alphabet, if you count upper- AND lower-case AND cursive letters. And no, “Big Train” is not yet another “choo choo whoo whoo” kids’ song. It is, in fact, about Walter Johnson, pitcher extraordinaire for the old Washington Senators!

Dad gets specific mentions in the songs “Sherpa”, “My New Hero”, and “April 14th”. “A Sherpa”, explains Dad, “carries lots of luggage across the Himalayas”, which is the way he feels sometimes when he packs for a trip to the park. But Dad is a hero because he can swim well, he’s honest, and he can do the Boogaloo. And the 14th of April makes Dad say unrepeatable words, notices the kid. Mom is on both ends of the volume spectrum with “Turn It Up, Mommy!”, a full out rocker that makes digs at the Wiggles, Raffi, and Barney all in one breath; and “Thank You Mommy”, a soothing final song that pays tribute to Moms (and wives) everywhere.

These guys have been at it for a long time, so they have the sound down, the production is clean and bright, and their musicianship is stellar. Is it a kids’ CD? Is it meant for adults? Anyone and everyone in the family will dig this music, and that’s the point.