Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gunnar Madsen

It's amazing how with all of the kids' music I've heard since starting this blog (and before that), I am still often blown away by new things I hear... And every so often, I'm blown away even beyond any normal standards of what constitutes being "blown away". Gunnar Madsen's I'm Growing album is a perfect example of that, and is without a doubt one of the most entertaining kids' music albums I've ever heard.

I'm Growing may not be to everyone's taste (not that anything is)... it is at once adventurous, over-the-top, complex, goofy, challenging and diverse, and it might be a little too much for anyone looking for a more straightforward sing-a-long kind of CD for their kids. But if you can just let it play and be open to discovering its creativity and uniqueness, then a real musical treat awaits, to be sure.

The opening title track builds up to arrive and envelope you. Instantly, Gunnar's vocal and arranging virtuosity is evident (he might be considered the kids' music equivalent of Bobby McFerrin) and you know you're in for something really special, and the rest of the album delivers a tasty smorgasbord of musical and lyrical ideas. "Pumpkin Hair" takes a simple, folksy kind of barn dance rhythm (
think the New Main Street Singers from A Mighty Wind) and spices it up with some unexpected chord changes. "Walkin' Back to Texas" seems to channel 70's laid-back folk-rock tunes like Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime". "Sun Comes Up" bounces along with some clever odd-timing and fun vocal play. "Mozart's at the Window" is a tour-de-force of vocal harmonies and layering. "Always on the Bottom" is a catchy and funny Elvis-style tune that scores extra credit for rhyming "bottom" with "Hillary Rodham". "Simple" belies its name by including some sophisticated lyrics and chord changes in a cool tongue-in-cheek way. "Library Closing Time" is a party rock anthem with a great rhythm pickup and the classic line: "Dewey Decimal? Yes, we do." The album ends with the beautiful original track "Tonight" and a stunning rendition of the traditional standard "Shenandoah".

Much of I'm Growing sounds familiar, musically speaking, and yet it's so fresh and original that it is always unmistakably "Gunnar Madsen". I'm reminded of the quote I used to describe Frances England's first CD, where Leonard Bernstein referenced good art as being "fresh, but inevitable."
Gunnar's other children's music CDs, Old Mr. Mackle Hackle and Ants in My Pants, and his composing efforts involving waltzes and synthesized dramatic works all have the same sense of unique brilliance and variety. But I'm Growing reaches musical heights even farther reaching than his previous children's albums, and stands out as a groundbreaking recording in the genre.

Click here for song samples, lyrics and ordering information for I'm Growing.

I was happy to be able to meet up with Gunnar at his home last year and interview him about I'm Growing and the rest of his work, but I've had some trouble getting the interview transcribed... It's almost complete now, though, so I will try to get that posted sometime after I'm home again in May.

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