In an attempt to catch up on the enormous backlog of CDs I have received for this blog over the past year, here's the first batch of several "short take" CD reviews... with more such batches to come over the winter. Though I like to include sound samples and video clips with my feature posts, they can take a good amount of time to get together, so I'm going to skip those for these short takes and just post the artist's website links. In most cases, the websites should have sound samples available, or links to sites that do...
That Baby CD
I think the producers of this CD did themselves a disservice by naming it what they did... Presumably, it was meant to be a CD of mellowish classic rock covers for babies to chill out to, but the songs are sophisticated (the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket" as an "I need some attention!" kids' song was a particularly brilliant choice) and the singing and arrangements are beautiful and contemporary, and my girls (aged 6 and nearly 4) play this album repeatedly in their bedroom while loudly singing along. So by all means, ignore the title, as this is just a great record for any age, really.
That Baby CD website
ScribbleMonster - Songs With No Character
According to the press release this is supposed to be a CD for parents, moreso than kids, which is presumably why they left ScribbleBunny and even ScribbleMonster himself off of the album in favor of the human voices of Jim and Jayne and Joyce. But I think most of the songs still work very well as kids' songs, so regardless, it's a really great ScribbleMonster album. Highlights include the Motown rocker, "Doing the Right Thing Isn't Always Easy, Doing the Easy Thing Isn't Always Right"; the hilariously awesome "I'm a Utility Pole (The World's Worst Dance Song)"; the incredibly touching board game metaphor, "The Game of Life"; and the great "look for the silver lining" message of "It Could Have Been Worse" (co-written with Monty Harper). I do miss the ScribbleMonster "fill-in-the-blank songs" from their previous CDs, but still, this a very entertaining album, through and through.
Eric Ode - When You Smile
This is, I think, Eric's strongest collection of songs yet, with a lot of fun tunes including the opener "Poor Planet Pluto", a poignant and topical story about the former planet's status reduction from "planet" to "giant rock floating in space"; "Legendary Larry", a clever lounge jazz number about an incredibly average person; "Let a Little Light Shine", a rhythmically interesting and very catchy spiritual anthem; and the classic "This Song Has No Elephants", which may be the best Eric Ode song EVAR. The recorded poem tracks are kind of hit and miss for me, but musically speaking, this is a very solid and engaging album. (Kudos to Eric for the several poems of his included on Buck Howdy's Grammy-nominated CD, Around the Fire... and kudos to Buck, too, of course!)
Eric Ode website
Justin Roberts - Pop Fly
After five listens through, Pop Fly hasn't attached itself to me the way Justin's previous Meltdown album did after the first or second listen, but the fact that I've listened to it five times through should be indication enough that by any reasonable standard for kids' music, it's a really great album (and another favorite of my girls'). The opening title track is quintessential Justin Roberts; adventurous, melodic, memorable, wonderful... and though the rest of the album doesn't quite reach the same heights as that song does, there are several other gems, including the funny and folksy "Henrietta's Hair", "Field Trip" (complete with Roberts' signature v-v-v-vocal lines and "whoa-oh"s) and the ultra-smooth "Kickboard, Baby, Yeah".
Justin Roberts website
Ralph's World - Rhyming Circus
Though similar to Pop Fly in that it doesn't live up to the expectation created by its enormously awesome predecessor (Green Gorilla, Monster and Me), Rhyming Circus is still a solid entry in the genre. Ralph seems to use quite a few "hey, look at my Beatles reference!" references on this album, but the songs are very original and fresh, nonetheless. The rock anthem "Gotta Be Good" is my new favorite Ralph tune, and would probably be a hit for John Mellencamp, and other favorites are "Abby's Alphabet Soup", which nicely demonstrates the different sounds of each letter; "Do the Math"; "Finger is the Singer"; and "Edward, the Tap-Dancing Elephant".
Ralph's World website