While I think that the Asylum Street Spankers' Mommy Says No! was definitely one of the best dozen or so CDs from last year, there's no doubt that it was definitely on the edge as kids' CDs go -- it's not for everyone, and some families won't like it at all. On top of that, one song -- "You Only Love Me For My Lunchbox" -- has achieved what I believe to be a singular achievement in the kids' music genre. It is, to my knowledge, the only kids' song -- recorded specifically for kids -- to be edited for language. That's right, XM Radio is playing the song, but without the last part of the tongue-twister breakdown. Why? Well, you'll have to watch this video from a Spankers' show in Dallas back in March. So, anyway, to answer my own question - from about 4:00 to 4:30 or so, most definitely not, unless you want to have a lengthy and probably unproductive discussion with your impressionable child. (Note: the actual cursing is not part of the CD, just to make that clear.) Asylum Street Spankers - "You Only Love Me For My Lunchbox"
It's time once again for me to list my favorite kids and family albums from the past year or so. As I noted in last year's list, I don't put tremendous stock in individual "best of" lists, because taste is idiosyncratic. (Please note the title here is "favorite," not "best," a deliberate choice of words.) The idiosyncracies of taste are one reason why I came up with the idea for the Fids and Kamily Awards. The fact that I think Recess Monkey's Wonderstuff is one of the year's best CDs might be more easily dismissed if it weren't for the fact that a good number of 19 judges happened to agree with me. As for my list, the top 10 below reflects my Fids and Kamily ballot. But as with last year, limiting a list of favorites to just 10 albums would leave off a number of very, very good albums. In fact, as a whole, 2007 was even stronger than 2006, making this year's decisions even more difficult. Although I lost count some time ago, I'd guess that I probably heard 250 to 300 new albums this past year -- even at 20 albums, I've left off some great music from this list. So without further ado...
Longtime fixtures of the Austin music scene (with fans in the U.S. and abroad), the Asylum Street Spankers would probably rank low on the list of bands you'd expect to see turning out a kids' album. Any band that counts EPs entitled Dirty Ditties and Nasty Novelties as part of their discography clearly hasn't made their name by recording albums suitable for use in your kid's preschool. So it's not unreasonable to ask -- is Mommy Says No!, their first family-friendly kids album, really family-friendly or for kids? The answer is yes, sort of, mostly. The band, who have made their name playing a broad range of musical genres using acoustic instrumentation, apply that same formula to a more benign set of song topics. Learning to ride a bicycle ("Training Wheel Rag"), wondering about being an adult ("When I Grow Up"), or being afraid of the dark ("Don't Turn Out the Light") -- these are all standard subject matter for kids music. But rather than setting those topics to pop fare, they turn them into a swinging rag (with some killer fiddle), funky New Orleans brass-band strut, and a sweet pop tune interrupted by some "Thriller"-like vocals. Whatever the style, throughout the album, the band sounds great. What distinguishes the album from most in the genre is its winking sense of humor, which at times ignores the kids and aims straight at the parents and at times may give parents pause. More benignly is Christina Marrs' "Be Like You," a sweet little ditty with toy piano and a background chorus of the guys in the band sounding like SNL's old "Unfrozen Cavemen Lawyers." Wammo's "You Only Love Me For My Lunchbox" may have some of the more nervous parents in the crowd skipping for the next track as Wammo leads the rest of the band through a set of tongue-twisters that ends with one more apropos for the over-21 crowd. The band's bluegrass cover of Nirvana's "Sliver" is downright awesome, though lyrically ("Mom and dad went to a show / they dropped me off at Grandpa Joe's / I kicked and screamed, said please no / Grandma take me home") is hardly the paean to childhood a lot of parents want. (Whether kids appreciate the familiarity of the situation is another matter.) With all due respect to Trout Fishing in America's "Alien in My Nose," I shouldn't let this review go on without noting the best song about snot ever written, the wildly amusing "Boogers" -- it strikes the perfect balance between juvenile humor for the kids and sly references (Quiet Riot -- haven't thought about them for years) for the adults. So, I'm pegging the age range at between 4 and 9 years of age, though a couple of the songs on the 46-minute album do seem pegged somewhat above the 4-year-old mark. The album's been available at the Spankers' website since August 2006, but is getting a proper release next week. You can hear a medley of songs there or go to major internet retailers to hear snippets. In the end, sometimes the band is referred to as, simply, "The Spankers." Whether you think that's a particularly good or bad name for a band recording an album for kids will go a long way toward determining whether you like the album. Some mommies will say "no" to Mommy Says No!. A sizeable minority of families won't like it all. But I think most people who are reading this review here will find it a hoot, energetic enough and tuned into kids' lives for the kids, while entertaining for their elders. Definitely recommended.
After a busy August calendar, things slow down a little bit in September: Sept. 1: Mommy Says No! - Asylum Street Spankers (thanks, Bill, for the heads up) Sept. 5: Snowdance - Erin Lee & Marci Sept. 12: My Best Day (live album) - Trout Fishing in America Sept. 12: Bright Spaces 2 - Various Artists (Dan Zanes-compiled benefit album) And of course, there are always August releases I missed and October releases to look forward to.