I should probably say up front that country music is not my forte, in any sense. It's not that I don't like country music... in fact, I like a lot of country music that I hear, but the thing is... I just don't hear a lot of country music. And I suppose that although I like a lot of the country music that I hear, I typically don't like it enough to really want to hear much more than I do, or to actively seek it out. Then again, there's a lot of sort-of-country-music that I've really been into over the years, including The Allman Bros., Johnny Cash, BR5-49, Neil Young, The Grateful Dead, Lyle Lovett, Chris Isaak, John Mellencamp and others. I also went to a Garth Brooks concert once in Buffalo when I was offered free tickets, and had to admit that I had a really great time and gained a much better appreciation of Garth as a performer and songwriter, and also for country music as a genre. I've also been caught inadvertantly singing along to country-ish songs like "Man, I Feel Like a Woman" (hey, it's super catchy... what can I say? Um... I trust that everyone who reads this will keep that to themselves...) But regardless, I still don't think I would typically choose to buy a ticket for a country music concert, or buy the latest Dwight/Toby/Keith/Alan/Kenny/Carrie album.
I guess what I'm trying to do here is to paint a picture that country music isn't really my thang, and I probably should have just said that to begin with and left it at that... But I also wanted to temper that by saying that once in a while I can appreciate it. And that's the setup I'm trying to give here, because I want it to have as much impact as possible when I say that the Little Nashville CD really blew me away. This is one terrific album of music, and I think it even transcends its genre. Like when you hear Bob Marley, it's great music, as opposed to just being great reggae.
I'm going to have some difficulty comparing things on this CD with other country artists or sounds, without having a great knowledge of the difference between Dwight, Toby, Keith, Alan, Kenny and Carrie (well, the difference between the guys and Carrie, yes...), so I may not even try. I can imagine a country music fan reading this and thinking, "He said that song sounds like Kenny Chesney, but it's totally an Alan Jackson thing." But I'll do my best to paint the picture.
The album kicks off in fine style with the upbeat "Welcome to Little Nashville", which immediately lets you know what you're in for. The production is great, and the guitar playing and singing by J. Juliano (or Sheriff Jay Hawke) is top notch. Again, a real country fan might know better, but from what country music I've heard, Jay's singing and guitar-playing is as good as anything I've ever heard in the country genre. I know Vince Gill is an amazing guitarist, and Jay's playing sounds as sharp and confident as Vince's.
Next up is the rollicking fiddle standard, "Turkey in the Straw", which is bound to elicit laughter on the "running down the street with a bear behind" line. The CD also covers several kid classics including "You Are My Sunshine", "I've Been Working on the Railroad", "The Hokey Pokey" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider", all done in a uniquely vibrant country style, and each with a different feel to it. "The Hokey Pokey" for example, is in the style of "Achy Breaky Heart", and in fact, it would seem that Billy Ray sort of ripped off "Hokey Pokey"... the chords are exactly the same and there's the similar hokey/pokey, achy/breaky wording. "I've Been Working on the Railroad" has a fast paddleball kind of sound and really cooks. I also like the vocal phrasing on "Dinah blow your horn". These songs retain the essential feel and qualities of the original, but deliver them in fresh and exciting ways.
There are some originals, too, and two of them in particular are really terrific. "A Little Different" is a whistling acoustic ballad that reminds me of the Motel 6 "we'll leave the light on" music. The song is very memorable, with some unexpected but perfect chord changes, and there's a cool message about accepting others for whoever or whatever they are. A square said to his Momma, "I saw a circle in town. You know how we've got these four sides? Well, he's just big and round." Momma Square said, "Let me explain... You're a shape, and he is, too. Hey hey hey, it's okay if he's just a little different than you." It's a simple, cute story and brilliant for the picture it paints.
The other original standout is "Like Mommy and Daddy", which is a really sweet country pop duet between Jay and Rosanna Spencer (aka Miss Laura Lee Goodheart). The voices complement each other beautifully and the song is both very catchy and very touching as kids describe how they want to do things just like their parents. It reminds me of a quote I read recently by James Baldwin: "Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them."
The Little Nashville folks sent me a CD with a few songs previewing their upcoming album, and there are more great things in store. "Green Light" is another Red Light/Green Light game song, but is totally different than Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang's "Red Means Stop", and goes to show how the same idea can yield many different variations. "That's My Dog" is a very catchy pop song that could be a big hit on the country stations, at least musically speaking... I'm not sure if kid-themed lyrics are ready to break through on the pop or country charts just yet.
I wonder if people who are into the new era of kids' music but who have no taste for country music are going to give this a chance with their kids. I certainly hope so, because it's such a standout in the kids' music field, its particular genre notwithstanding. There should be no question that Little Nashville will be a hit among kids and families that already have a big appreciation for country music, but it should really transcend that label, and I hope it is embraced by others like me who aren't really into country music all that much. I still have no real desire to turn on a country music station or to go and buy a Toby Keith record, and yet I liked this so much that I immediately wanted to listen to it again after it was over, and have done so several times since. It's kind of like the old Life cereal commercials, where they didn't expect Mikey to like it so much... Well, go ahead and call me Mikey, 'cause this is some really tasty stuff. And if Mikey likes it, then you might, too.
Little Nashville website