Music writers -- at the very least, this one -- aren't necessarily fans of consistency in their artists. It stretches our ability to find something new to say about an artist when she constantly turns out the same type of thing.
Sometimes it's consistently bad, and I imagine that some writers could have fun picking apart those albums exhibiting significant failures of imagination, talent, or quality control, if not all three. (I am not one of those writers.)
But sometimes it's consistently good, and those are the trickier ones for me. Chris Ballew, aka Caspar Babypants -- he's one of the trickiest. His seven Caspar Babypants albums have been uniformly excellent, with only his most recent, Baby Beatles, a collection of Fab Four covers, at all deviating from the norm of well-crafted, lightly-arranged collections of gentle and gently skewed originals mixed with covers of folk classics that, like looking through a prism at different angles, retained the essence of the original but let you see (or hear) it in a different way.
So how does his latest album, Rise and Shine, differ from the rest of the CB work? Hmmm… to begin with, it felt to me like it's his most toddler-focused album in quite some time, songs like the strings-laden Beatlesque "Rise and Shine" and the handclapp-y jam "Littlest Worm" with the hint of lessons might be most… useful for your almost-three-year-old.
But that's the barest of distinctions, and the album feels every bit part of the Caspar Babypants world we have come to know and love. It celebrates the natural world, with songs featuring birds, worms, mice, and squirrels -- sometimes acting more or less like they actually do in the real world, in the crisp "Pretty Crabby," and sometimes acting more anthropomorphically, as in what is probably one of my top 5 Caspar Babypants songs, "Bird in an Airplane Suit" ("Look up / look up / you can sometimes see / a bird in an airplane suit"). (I also quite enjoy the simple and wistful "Girl With a Squirrel in Her Hat.")
Ballew's ear for reworking traditional songs and mixing those new arrangements amongst his sometimes whimsical originals remains as sharp as ever. "Rain Rain Come Today" is very much reworked, something you might have heard in the '60s. And while the traditional lullabies on the disk are hardly lullabies - "Hush Little Baby" is funky, and "Rock a Bye Baby" also fails the sleep test, he does end the album on a slow note, tempo-wise.
I'll peg this album as most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 6. You can hear samples from the 50-minute album here.
In the end, Rise and Shine is another solid entry in Ballew's kid-canon, as strong as any over the past decade, perfect for your youngest kid or niece or nephew, but still just as delightful to their older siblings (or their parents). Sometimes novelty is overrated, but Caspar Babypants isn't. Highly recommended.
Note: I received a copy of this album for possible review.