The first thing that I thought when I put on John Carlin's First Time for Everything album was, wow, how did he get Randy Newman to sing on his album? Then I realized, ah yeah, that's actually John singing. So whether or not you like Randy Newman's vocal style might influence whether you go any farther with this album. But Randy's style doesn't make we want to sneer and mutter "Newman!" under my breath, so I continued on. (Okay, that's two Seinfeld references in a row... I promise no more for a while.) And as it turned out, the Randy Newman voice is just one aspect of John Carlin's vocal ability. He has a great variety of sounds and styles in his vocal palette, and although sometimes it sounds a bit too much like he's doing an 'impression', when he sings naturally it's really quite cool.
John is also a very good songwriter, in particular on the incredibly infectious "Runaround", which reminds me of Cheap Trick's guitar rock hits. I also really liked the "Groovin'" groove of the title track, with its cool "wee-ooh" backing vocals and it's David Lee Roth meets Louis Armstrong vocal style. I was a little disappointed by the 'rhyme' of "thing" and "thing" in the chorus (couldn't he have used "sing" or "wing" or "bling bling"?), but that might not bother too many people. "Bein' a Dog" has a good acoustic vibe and is a great participation song in the spirit of Barry Louis Polisar's "I Wanna Be a Dog". I appreciated the strangely mysterious intro to "I Like You", until it turned out that it wasn't just the intro, but the whole song goes on like that. It's very much a 'musical tension' kind of thing, and I'm all for that, but at some point it felt to me like it really needed to go somewhere else, if only briefly. Imagine if you heard an amazing gospel choir sing a majestic "Hallelujah" chorus and at the end they did a big long "ahhhhhhhhhhh" but never did the "men". The musical part of your brain would be tearing its hair out. The final track "Not Alone" is a sweet and melodic charmer with some cute lyrics like "Twinkling in the dark/There must be a billion stars shining down from heaven/Is there one for me?/And will I ever learn to be as wise as I am when I'm seven?"
On First Time for Everything, John also adds a few traditional song renditions, including "Waltzing Matilda", "This Little Light of Mine" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb". These songs really show off the nice natural singing voice and interesting phrasing that John has, and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is reimagined in a very nice way.
The album was recorded by John in a rehearsal studio and the production is kind of uneven. The acoustic songs sound great, but the others could have been a little more polished. There are a few things that I wasn't entirely crazy about on this album, but for the most part I really loved it, and I think John Carlin will definitely be one to listen to as he continues to produce music for kids.
John Carlin website