Monday, July 24, 2006

***E-CLEC-TRIC Classroom***

A man, his dog, and his guitar ... no, not the dog's guitar, the man's ... see, a dog can't ... nevermind. This is kids' music unplugged, really unplugged. But Rob Levitt pulls it off wonderfully, making the listener believe he is singing only to him. Boys and girls, the E-CLEC-TRIC Classroom Presents: Buster & Rob and Other Cool Kids' Songs!

Rob is a Kindergarten teacher at Shady Grove Elementary in Ambler, Pennsylvania, and has mastered the art of writing lyrics from his students' points of view. Songs like "Polite", "I Like Me", and "Responsibility" detail the joy and excitement of growing up, and the hard work that comes with getting older. "Snow Day", "Show & Tell", "Cloudsong", and "Math" (which bears a more than passing resemblance to the structure of the Beastie Boys' song "Girls") are great snapshots of days and moments in the lives of six- and seven-year-olds. Even the way Rob manages to smoosh lots of words into the lines of some of his songs reminds you of the rush of dialogue that sometimes erupts from a little kid's mouth. A good example can be found in the song "Responsibility", in which a young student observes "It's not the mailman's job to bring in my folder / Or the lady who smiles and takes my lunch money / It's not a job for my dog, who chews my homework to bits at night / It's a job for me."

A yardstick I use to measure the quality of songs is to imagine a converse presentation of an album. In other words, listen to an album of heavily-produced songs and imagine them stripped down to the point of being played on an acoustic guitar. If they still sound good, then they're good songs (some of David Bowie's later songs are good examples). On the other hand, take an acoustic album and picture the songs being played by a full group, like the E Street Band or Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. If the songs still seem like they would rock, then they're good songs. Rob's CD falls into the latter category, and it would actually be really cool to hear full-on rock and roll versions of these songs.

In a genre of children's music that sometimes has trouble keeping a listener's interest, Rob Levitt's solo acoustic CD is heads and shoulders above the rest, delivering a collection of funny, interesting, and relevant songs that early Elementary kids will get and parents will dig. Let's hope Buster & Rob is the first of many great kids' albums from Rob.