Family Music Review: Shall we rock a bit? Yes, we shall.

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Shall we rock a bit?  Yes, we shall.

This month, let’s look at some music that’s just good straight ahead rock for kids.  It’s not, to be clear, all head-banging, and some of the CDs below are certainly varied in styles, but these folks set out to make various flavors of rock records, and that’s what they did.

John Carlin’s first record, First Time for Everything, was mostly performed by Carlin himself.  It was a good guitar-based record, fairly straightforward but with some killer hooks.  Now he’s gone and gotten a full band, and it really makes the record come alive.  The songs have more energy – the second track, “Meet You At the Playground,” nicely evokes the excitement of outdoor play with a sweet mandolin track, while “A Dinosaur Named Fred” builds to an almost Buffalo Tom-esque chorus.  Most notably, the record incorporates music from around the world, especially Brazilian samba and bossa nova without feeling forced.  (There’s the “varied” part.) Plus he includes one of my favorite songs from seeing him live, “Eliza,” with a great organ part and some nice harmonies.

Rudnick is a Boston-area family musician with a familiar story – as parenthood began, his songwriting turned to songs for his kids. For over a decade now, he’s been releasing relaxed-but-never-sloppy music that just feels right, with intricate tunes and playful lyrics. There’s more than a little Grateful Dead influence here, both in the rambling style and the Americana reworkings of classic songs (“Old Joe Clark,” “Erie Canal,” etc.).  Rudnick has released a number of records, but this is probably is best.  One change, whether conscious or not, is that at least these tracks are, on average, a minute or two shorter than most of the tracks on past albums, and I think that makes them largely better.

The Sippy Cups’ previous full-length CD, Electric Storyland, is surprising psychedelic rock for kids – surprising because nobody had really done it before.  In retrospect, it seems obvious that music inspired by early Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and so on, mixed with modern alternative rock energy, would be perfect for kids.  The band has released one online-only EP, One Day Soon, made up of quieter music, since Electric Storyland, but the new full length has been a long time coming.

That full-length, The Time Machine, is similarly good, but with a different focus than Electric Storyland.  As the band members’ kids have gotten older, the songs seem to have gotten a bit more mature.  This is still kids’ music, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more about elementary school age kids’ situations and problems and joys than the previous record.  “My Daddy’s Lucky Charm,” for instance, describes how the title object keeps a family from unraveling; “One Day Soon” (which also is on the EP of the same name) sweetly deals with the aching desires of kids to be able to do more than they can; and so on.  The music is still largely along the same lines as Electric Storyland, with maybe a bit more modern rock vibe than classic or psychedelic rock – no matter the label, though, it’ll work great for your kids and you.


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 (8-10 AM, 101.5 in Brattleboro) and 103.3 Valley Free Radio (7-9 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. Contact him at

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