Reviewed by Gregory Keer
We in the Keer house have been fans of Charity and the JAMBand since my two oldest were grooving to 2006’s Rock Your Socks Off. Charity Kahn and her bandmates perform songs with lyrics of peace and family togetherness layered with any number of funky, dreamy, rocking, and rolling sounds. Disarming listeners with her with youthful voice, Charity has a drive in her music that rings with such genuine belief in the Family Values her songs speak of that it’s hard not to be transported to an idyllic state of mind. Among the 13 diverse tracks are the Lenny Kravitz-like propulsion of the title track, the folk lilt of “Lovingkindness,” the Bangles-esque “Valentine,” the electronic jazz-rock of “Flower of Power,” and the bluesy anthem of “We Are the Ones.” The rhythms and song craft are so good on this album, it’s one of those discs adults can shamelessly listen to even when the kids aren’t around.
There seems to be a resurgence in family-music projects that aim to teach as well as entertain. Sometimes, it comes off forced and clunky, but The Mighty Sky transcends most standards with its fluid blend of song and science. Nashville-based singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman — who has written pieces for such luminaries as Bonnie Raitt, Neil Diamond, Trisha Yearwood, Elton John, and Emmylou Harris — offers an eclectic mix of sonic styles to accompany the songs she’s written with Annie Roboff and lyricist Rocky Alvey, the Director of the Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory. From the atmospheric title tune and the do-wop-tinged “The Moon” to the rockabilly-lighted “Rockin’ Little Neutron Star” and the earthy “Zodiacal Zydeco,” this album inspires interest and learning about astronomy as it provides musical uplift.
David Tobocman is a clever songwriter (he currently composes for the cartoon Robot and Monster), but he takes a simple, straightforward approach to making music for young kids. Light rock, bluegrass, and folk underpin Tobocman’s songs on Escalator, from the upwardly mobile tune for which the album is named and the wildly imaginative “Custom Family Spaceship” (which suggests an intergalactic family vacation) to the down-to-earth “Gonna Be a Garbage Man” and the optimistic “Peace Sign.”
Beauty abounds amidst the Blue Clouds of Elizabeth Mitchell’s newest album. With grace and quiet purity, the Smithsonian Folkways recording artist interprets wide-ranging classic songs from the likes of David Bowie (“Kooks”), Bill Withers (“I Wish You Well”), Jimi Hendrix (“May This Be Love”), and Van Morrison (“Everyone”). While strings, flutes, and the angelic voices of Mitchell and her daughter Storey (Mitchell’s husband, Daniel Littleton, plays guitar and other instruments, here) populate the music, the artwork of Remy Charlip characterizes the CD cover and booklet and the words of Brian Selznick (the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret) introduce this affecting project.
We conclude this month’s children’s music reviews with multi-award-winner Ben Rudnick, who is on his tenth family-music album, but the vitality of the songs on this recording prove the singer-songwriter has yet to run out of good ideas. Catch such fine tunes as the rootsy “A Little Boogie,” the island-hued “Where Are the Dragons,” and the cowboy-swaying “Scribbling.”