Noteworthy: Odes to soggy cereal and pet eels
We review kids' music from Girl Authority, Barney Saltzberg, and Ben Rudnick.
Girl Authority – Road Trip (Rounder): In what can be best described as karaoke sleepover, the Girls, self-described "princesses of tween pop," primarily cover pop tunes of their parents' era – "Dancin' in the Streets," "Walking on Sunshine," "Holiday" – with a couple of forgettable original tunes thrown in. It's telling that in the cover shot of the girls posing in a convertible, the instruments have been dumped by the side of the road. Bouncy, fast-paced covers – such as "Vacation" and "Perfect Day" – work best since the vocals tend toward the generic. (There doesn't seem to be a Christina Aguilera hiding in here, or a Hilary Duff, for that matter.) In a kind of junior Spice Girl touch, each girl gets her own nickname: "Preppy Girl," "Glamour Girl," "Party Girl," etc. Whether you think that's cute or cringe-inducing will largely determine whether you want your daughter to own the CD. Grade:C
Peter Himmelman – My Green Kite (Rounder): Himmelman really knows how to make an entrance: The first two tracks on his fourth CD are absolutely outstanding. "Feet" boasts some mighty fine horns, and Himmelman sounds a little like Neil Diamond circa "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" on the title track. He closes with a lovely ode to his "Watercolor Set." In between is a wide variety of the clever ("Maybe is a Bad Word"), the philosophical ("Another Bite of Hay"), and the parent-friendly ("My Father's an Accountant"). However, if you want your kid to eat breakfast, for heaven's sake skip "Have You Ever Really Looked at an Egg." Grade: A–
Barney Saltzberg – Crazy Hair Day (Inkless Records): Award-winning children's author Saltzberg puts together an impressive collection of inventive lyrics in his debut. Songs range from "Muriel," an ode to patience and the joy of soggy cereal, to "Raised by Wolves," an anthem about unusual table manners. Saltzberg isn't afraid to throw in a little bite, such as his exhortation to unplug the digital baby sitter and hang out with your child in "Be With Me." His vocal range is limited, but he makes up for that with guest vocalists such as Vonda Shepherd, Peter Himmelman, and Jackson Browne. What really puts this CD over the top is the final track. In what has to be the most pedigreed bedtime story since Meryl Streep performed "Chrysanthemum," Dustin Hoffman reads Saltzberg's title book from cover to cover. Maybe it's not as musically inventive as some other selections, but I had to go search my son's room for this one to finish my review. Grade: A–
Morgan Taylor – Gustafer Yellowgold's Wide Wild World (Little Monster Records): Call it the Yellow Haze. Musician/illustrator Morgan Taylor has created a musical DVD for young children that has nothing in common with the Wiggles or any band that gently rocks out with too-wide grins while little kids bop along in time. Instead, through psych-pop songs and minimalist illustrations, he tells the story of teardrop-shaped explorer Gustafer Yellowgold. Seeking to chill out, Gustafer trades his home on the sun for one in Minnesota, where he resides with his pet pink eel. His best friend is a tuxedo-wearing pterodactyl named Forrest Applecrumble, and a dragon named Asparagus lives in his fireplace. The 10 songs are simple but evocative, with plenty of gentle humor. Take my favorite, "I'm on Your Cake," extolling Gustafer's favorite hobby: smushing desserts. "I jump on cake from high above/ I step on pie, so warm and lovely./ It's mine to punt, vanilla bundt./ All freshly baked. I'm on your cake." The tone is wistful and quirky, with a flavor of Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles. And, with a free CD thrown in, it's even a bargain. Grade: A
Ben Rudnick and Friends – Grace's Bell (Bartlett Ave. Records): Excellent instrumentals make this fourth album by the Massachusetts band a winner from beginning to end. Besides, how can you not root for a band that boasts both a mandolin and an accordion? The quintet, which has collected a slew of awards from parenting groups, combines lively renditions of classics such as "Mama Don't 'Low," "Route 66," and "When the Saints Go Marching In," with original songs, such as the calypso-inflected "Vowels" and my favorite, "Chet's Fabulous Diner." Grade: A–