It's funny what people remember from their youth. Meals at their grandparents, trips to Disneyland, their first kiss. One of my memories is of a white coffee mug with a cow with a befuddled expression standing on his (or her -- my memory isn't that good, nor was the drawing that detailed) hind legs on a patch of grass somewhere. On the other side, the text -- "For someone outstanding in their field"
Still gets me everytime.
The creator of that silly mug was illustrator and author Sandra Boynton, who besides countless children's books now has three albums of kid-friendly music to her credit.
Her second album, Philadelphia Chickens, was created with her musical collaborator Michael Ford in 2002. Unsurprisingly, given Boynton's talent for anthropomorphizing animals, many of the songs revolve around animals. Some of the songs do so very clearly, such as "Please, Can I Keep It?," an amusing story-song about a ravenous stray pet. Others focus more on their owners, such as the slightly funky "Fifteen Animals." And some have nothing to do with animals at all-- "BusyBusyBusy."
In the liner notes to the CD, Boynton mentions that the music came about as a result of her desire to make something a "little more nuanced" than the recordings of perky children's music her children were once given. She wanted to "create an album that would somewhat parallel the soundtrack that ran beneath [her] own childhood," including "Broadway show tunes." Some of the best songs on the album would be perfect in a Broadway review -- "Faraway Cookies" is a note-perfect song about longing. Longing about cookies, yes, but the emotion is surprisingly universal.
Another sign that Boynton was really trying to create a Broadway review is the list of performers -- they're much more familiar to fans of the stage and screen than to readers of Billboard. Meryl Streep, Laura Linney, Kevin Kline, even Scott Bakula -- they were recruited to sell the songs. Their voices are pretty good, but the songs are better than you would expect.
There's a wide variety of musical styles on the album, but you do have to have a tolerance for show tunes and moderate tempos. Kids aged 4 to 8 would probably appreciate this CD the most. You can either buy the CD separately or with an accompanying book with goofy Boynton drawings and sheet music that is just a bit too advanced for my rudimentary piano skills. The album is recommended, especially if you're looking for a change from your children's-oriented folk or rock music.
Oh, and if you want to know the source of this blog's name, check out "Nobody Understands Me." It's not just the mug that stuck with me.