When Bloodshot Records' classic kids and family music compilation The Bottle Let Me Down was released in 2002, it was, well, something of a novelty. Adult artists -- edgy ones, even -- doing kids' music? What was perhaps surprising was just how darn good the collection was.
Now it's 2006 and adult artists doing kids' music, while not yet passe', is certainly not a novelty, not when every rocker with kids underfoot may be thinking that there's an audience out there that's waiting to be served. So it hardly seems necessary to note that the Wee Hairy Beasties, whose debut album Animal Crackers will be released next week, actually consist of musicians with a long history of playing in places far seedier than your local day care center -- Jon Langford and Sally Timms, of the punk band the Mekons; Kelly Hogan; and Devil in a Woodpile.
It also is much less surprising than it would have been four years ago that this album is more fun than a barrel full of monkeys. Or ants. OK, it's way more fun than a barrelful of ants. Barrelfuls of ants are never fun, but the rewrite of the Bo Diddley classic "I'm a M.A.N.," which is turned into "I'm an A.N.T." definitely is. "Housefly Blues" introduces young listeners to the problems of the common housefly. Langford's distinctive and slightly raspy voice is a great fit for the zippy "Ragtime Duck." And so on, through a whole range of country, bluegrass, and swing arrangements. My favorite track on the CD is "Cyril the Karaoke Squirrel," on which Hogan's sly vocal delivery and the '60s-era arrangement draws the listener into a story about intolerance which, as you might expect from Bloodshot Records, doesn't end quite the way you'd expect.
I'm going to put an age range of 3 to 8 for the 33-minute album, thanks to the animal subject matter, which always goes over big with preschoolers. You can download the leadoff track, the ragged-sounding (in a good way) and lots-of-fun "Wee Hairy Beasties" and pre-order the album at its Bloodshot page.
Make no mistake, Animal Crackers is a kids' album. But it's made with love and enthusiasm and will engage kids while making the parents smile. And if you had any affinity for The Bottle Let Me Down, you shouldn't hesitate at all to get this album. Definitely recommended.