Uncle Rock (aka Robert Warren) is a cool kids' performer from Chichester, New York, which is in the area sometimes considered "upstate New York". I say "sometimes", because the definition of "upstate New York" is kind of strange... You'd think it would only mean the part up near the top, and yet, I've also heard it referring to Uncle Rock's area in the Catskills, in which the "upstate" probably means "up" as in up from sea level. Also, having lived for many years in Western New York, I've actually heard references to the Buffalo area as being "upstate", which I can only assume means that for some people, anywhere that isn't New York City is "upstate". And then again, those of us in Buffalo often referred to areas like Syracuse and Rochester (there's an awful lot of "chesters" in New York) as "upstate", so who knows where it really is.
But in any case, "upstate" is actually a good description for Uncle Rock's music and how it makes you feel. He has two kids' music albums, the first of which I've only heard a few samples of, and the more recent, Plays Well With Others, which I'll focus on here.
On Plays Well With Others, Uncle Rock quickly proceeds to bring the rock to the table with the heavily T-Rex influenced opening track "Rock Out!", where he incites legions of kids to dance with their daddies, mosh with their mommies and groove with their grannies. T-Rex gives way to The Blues Brothers in the bridge with a cop of the "Everybody Need Somebody" riff. The folky "Playin' Possum" is next and is very cute and features a rippin' snore solo. "Picnic in the Graveyard" has a memorable anthemic melody, describing a holiday celebration of one's ancestors. This is both a beautiful song and a really wonderful holiday (see the video below), and thematically the track leads nicely into the acoustic ballad, "Brand New Butterfly". Throughout the album, Warren sounds vocally like a more polished version of John Kay (Steppenwolf), or a less polished version of Kenny Loggins, and "Brand New Butterfly" particularly shows off the nice timbre of his voice. "Shoe Bandit" is one of those kids' songs that has a particularly funny and clever observation about kid/parent life, and I will now be singing this song every time my girls and I are frantically looking for their shoes so we can go out somewhere. "Break a Few Eggs" is a catchy life-lesson with a nice laid-back groove. "Sugar Talkin'" has an instantly memorable catch-phrase ("It's the sugar talkin', not me"), and could have been a real hit if it wasn't a bit sloppy in spots. Better produced is "Rock & Roll Babysitter" and then "I'm a Pirate", which covers several pirate cliches in the lyrics and has a great musical vibe and a nice "Arrr!" lead-in to every verse. "Disco Nap" is kind of a strange concept and never quite locks into its groove, rhythmically, but the album closer, "Connected" is a beautifully realized ballad, both musically and lyrically.
One thing that my wife mentioned about this CD (though she liked the album a lot, otherwise) was regarding the overabundance of kids singing along on many of the tracks. And it's not so much that there were kids on a lot of tracks... there's certainly nothing wrong with that... but that in this case it is kind of hit-and-miss as far as whether they are effective or not. Kids can make a kids' music recording sound cute and add excitement to the mix, but if they are too much out of tune or off rhythm with the main vocal line that they are supposed to be following, it's one of those things where it may sound funny and adorable the first time... but after that it can be kind of disconcerting and difficult to listen to. But Roseann wanted me to mention that her ears are particularly sensitive about that kind of thing when she is producing music, so it may not be a problem for everyone. It didn't bother me nearly as much, though I do know what she means by that and agree that there is some level of that on this CD. Not to make Uncle Rock such an example of this, though, as there are many kids' CDs, even by some of the biggest names, that have that same kind of problem, but since it came up I thought it might be worth mentioning now.
There are two cover tracks, the first a medley of "Magic Carpet Ride", "Hey Bo Diddley" and "Magic Bus", and the second an acoustic version of "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka. Neither of these really worked too well for me, with "Pure Imagination" vaguely reminding me of my old coffeeshop gigs when someone would request something that I only kinda knew how to sing and play. There's just not a strong sense of confidence in his performance on that track. But thankfully, Uncle Rock's original tunes are excellent, so I think if he focuses on them and works a little on getting the overall recording production a bit more polished (while still retaining some of the nice edge and grit that he has), then his CDs will continue to be among the best in the kids' music genre.
Uncle Rock website
Saturday, February 24, 2007
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"Picnic in the Graveyard" is one of the more unique kids' songs I've heard. My son will love it. He's interested in old graveyards, and we've spent some time walking around a few of them in Idaho looking for my ancestors.
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