Monday, March 17, 2008

Mr. Richard

Mr. Richard is a very popular kids' music performer from Florida who has released three CDs of music for kids. Last year, I received Richard's 2nd CD, Tummy Talk, and I enjoyed that, especially the first track, the title track, which has an incredibly catchy funky-bluesy guitar riff, a kickin' pre-chorus ("when your tummy starts talkin' a mile a minute, that's the time you know you gotta put something in it"), and an utterly infectious groove to it. It's an all-around terrific anthem to the noises your stomach can make when it's hungry and was an instant classic for me in the kids' music realm. In fact, I think I may have liked the whole album even better if I didn't keep comparing the rest of it to that first track, which was so hard to measure up to.

Fast forward ahead to this year when Richard's 3rd album, Polka Dot Puzzle, arrives in the mail. I was looking forward to checking it out, having already seen the great video for one of the songs, "Cheese" (see the video below), and the album definitely lived up to my hopes and is a terrific volume of kids' music with a lot of humor and musical fun.

Richard has a tremendous ability for generating catchy guitar riffs, and the jumpy acoustic opening figure on Polka Dot Puzzle's second track, "Treehouse", is a nice example of that. The emphasis on "E" in the chorus ("tree-E-house") is a little strange, but it's a good hook, nonetheless. "The Woo Woo Truck" is a very cool tune in the vein of The Violent Femmes, describing what to do when you hear a fire engine coming by.

"Bubble Bath" has an amazing squirrely funk riff and some nice horn licks as Richard adds a laundry list of the things you can make with the bubbles in your bath; a bubble beard, a bubble wig, etc. "Straw Slot", about a kid with a missing tooth, sounds like John Mellencamp meets the Byrds and has yet another catchy guitar riff and funny lines like "I look like Alfred E. Neuman when I smile".

The "Pots n' Pans" track is one that is probably more "appreciated" than "enjoyed", what with its Stomp-y clinging and clanging of actual pots and pans throughout, but it's a nice testament to the rhythmic and musical possibilities available all around you.

The song "Pooch Smooch" is a real blues-rock gem with some wonderfully distorted harmonica, and there's a fun video for that which you can see below. One quibble about the production of the song... There's a point in each chorus when there are kids screaming in reaction to the dog kissing them, but the screaming is a really loud, blood-curdling kind of screech that seems to imply the terror of "I fell into a pool of sharks with a big gash on my leg" and not "my dog just slobbered all over me... ewww, gross!"

"Butterfly Day" is a jangly pop tune sung along with Molly Ledford that reminds me of the great pop songs for kids that Roger Day produces. The album also begins and ends with "Hello, everybody" and "goodbye, everybody" tracks, which is something you hear now and then on kids' albums, but these are done very well and do invite you into the album and leave you feeling good at the end.

It wouldn't be right for me to cover Mr. Richard and keep it real without mentioning that, well... if he was a contestant on a show like American Kids Idol, the celebrity judge equivalent of Randy Jackson would probably be using the term "pitchy" quite a lot. But Mr. Richard has a similar vocal vibe to Barry Louis Polisar, where okay, his vocals aren't the most polished, but his vocal delivery is still very cool and just right in a way that sort of represents the spirit or voice of a kid.

It's time to go off on one of my tangents here... it's been a while... Thinking of the impact of the song "Tummy Talk" as the first track on that album, it brings to mind the importance of the track order on CDs and what a difficult decision that often is. I recall many years ago making an observation that a lot of albums from my favorite bands and artists seemed to have the big hit song as the 3rd or 4th track. I'm sure there are a million exceptions to that, but remembering that observation now I think the reasoning for that may be that if you always put that big first single as the first track on the album, then it might create an expectation for the album that is difficult to live up to. Also, a lot of times the hit single song might be a little poppier than the rest of the tracks on a rock album, or it might be a ballad on an album of otherwise upbeat songs, so if you put it first then there is a false sense of what the album and/or the artist is really about.

So with that thinking, the best track to put first is probably something that is cool and inviting and memorable and representative of the artist and the album, and makes you want to listen further, but isn't really the knock-out song that the first single is intended to be. By the time you reach that knock-out track at the 3rd or 4th slot, you're already hooked big-time and though the rest of the album still may not match up to that hit song, initially, at least... you're likely to appreciate it for what it is and will probably grow to love some of the other songs more than that big hit, once they get under your skin.

I'm not necesarily saying that Mr. Richard should have put the song "Tummy Talk" 3rd or 4th on his Tummy Talk album instead of 1st... Maybe it would have been better, from my point of view, at least... But he did what he felt was right for his album for his taste and for his fans and so that's fine. And certainly an argument can be made that people are fickle with what they listen to and if something doesn't really grab them right away, there goes your chance to grab them at all... in which case maybe your very best track should be the first one on the album. I should also admit that I am absolutely not an expert in this regard, having second-guessed the track order on three of my four kids' CDs and even resequencing one of them when reordering more copies after its second run. I can say that my next album feels just right in its track sequencing in terms of the flow that it has, and I think that may be the most important consideration, as opposed to thinking about what songs are the standouts and where they fall in the mix.

Anyway, just thought I'd share a few thoughts about that, since it came up... It may even become moot before too long as musical buying and listening habits seem to gravitate more and more towards the downloadable single, as opposed to the album. I hope that the album never dies entirely, though, as it is always nice to share a lengthier slice of musical time with a talented artist who has created a group of songs that work really well together... like, for example, Mr. Richard's Polka Dot Puzzle!

Mr. Richard's website

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