Be Really Good at What You Do

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Be Really Good at What You Do

What makes a CD work?

(The smarty-pants [smarty-panteses?] among you are already launching into a detailed discussion of microgrooves and laser technology. I don’t mean “work” like that, doofuses.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that question lately, not just in the kids’ music genre but more generally. And I’ve realized that the key for me is for an artist to do what they do well. That’s why, more often than not, publicity material bragging about how a CD includes “everything from rock to hip hop to smooth jazz to klezmer music to dissonant modern classical” (note: not an actual quote) is a warning sign, not a positive. Sure, some bands can pull it off, but most of the time, that “jack of all trades, master of none” cliché turns out to be based in truth. So this month, let’s take a look at some records where the artists aren’t trying to be more than what they are, and it works.

Barenaked Ladies, Snacktime

With their frequent jokiness, it might come as a surprise that Barenaked Ladies haven’t previously come out with a record for the kids – especially since, as they point out, the bandmembers are now outnumbered by their kids (more than doubled!). But Snacktime is in fact their first full-length release for the whole family. Happily, they haven’t dumbed down their often-overlooked songwriting skills for their jump into the kids’ music pool. Instead, they’ve retained the infectious poppy tunes, clever lyrics, and occasionally surprising insights (consider the sweet “Things” lyrics: “There are things that make me mad, but you are not one of them/There are things that make me sad, but you are not one of them/There are things that make me Dad, you seem to be all of them.”). What you’ll mostly love, though, are the hilarity on songs like “Crazy ABCs,” with non-traditional words for each of the songs – i.e., “A is for Aisle,” “P is for Pneumonia,” and the like. Reunited with Michael Phillip Wojewoda, who produced BNL’s early Gordon release, Snacktime is exactly what you’d want a BNL kids’ CD to be like.

Daddy A Go Go, Rock of All Ages

Athens, Georgia-based John Boydston has been making straight-up guitar rock for families for going on a decade now, and his kids – quite young when he started – are now part of the band, playing on a number of the tracks here. There’s no mystery here, but sometimes you just want to rock out, and the Boydston clan provide a great soundtrack for doing so – even including a blistering cover of “What a Wonderful World.”

Dean Jones, Napper’s Delight

Jones, of the terrific Hudson Valley family band Dog on Fleas, has done more than come up with a great album title (referencing, of course, the groundbreaking “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill gang). Jones, while certainly putting together what could be considered a lullaby CD, hasn’t taken the easy way by just recording a bunch of quiet songs with acoustic guitars. It’s just as creative as any of his regular band’s work, but just happens to be mostly a bit mellower. It’s not a release that instantly grabs you, but if you get it, I bet you’ll pull it out pretty regularly – especially if you’re stuck in traffic with snarly kids.,

Melissa Errico, Lullabies & Wildflowers

Tony-nominee Melissa Errico (for best actress in Amour) and frequent performer on Broadway, on TV, and in feature films, had a baby a couple of years ago. As with so many performers, the experience of becoming a parent – late nights, singing, and so on – triggered a record. But most performers don’t have the incredible voice of Errico. Listening to Lullabies & Wildflowers, you’re not remotely surprised to hear that she’s been successful on Broadway – it’s that kind of voice, pure, clear, and engaging. Unsurprisingly, the record is gentle and soothing. Even the slightly more up-tempo songs (the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me” or Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers,” for example) will trigger at most gentle head-bobbing, not head-banging. The production is polished to a fine sheen, as you’d expect with her background and style of singing. That production approach occasionally makes some of the songs feel almost distant, which isn’t ideal for lullabies, and isn’t my cup of tea – but overall, that’s nitpicking. If you’re looking for a way to slow down at the end of the day, this will work wonders.

Bill Childs & Ella

Bill Childs

Bill teaches law school by day in Springfield. With his kids, he produces a radio show for kids, Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child, which airs on Saturday mornings on 93.9 The River (7-9 AM, 101.5 in Brattleboro) and 103.3 Valley Free Radio (8-10 AM). He’s also a columnist for regional parenting magazines, covers music for Parenting magazine, and is a bi-monthly contributing writer to Hilltown Families.

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