Based in Portland, Oregon Stephen Cohen has been making art of one sort or another for nearly 30 years. Creating music, musical instruments, and visual art, Cohen integrates these three into his performing career.
This is exactly the kind of person that should be making kids' music.
On his recently-released Here Comes The Band, Cohen gives reason to be optimistic for the future of music for families. A heady collection of multi-instrumental folk music, Cohen weaves together an album that flows seamlessly from start to finish. The opening title track serves as the prelude to the whole album, with a melody that pops up at least a couple more times later on in the album. It segues almost imperceptibly into "Give Me That Toy!," which, thankfully, doesn't tell the young listener to ask politely -- it's written from the child's perspective. And from there into the traditional children's rhyme "Mr. Knickerbocker," in which Cohen's distinctive voice (ever-so-slightly nasally and slightly-less-slightly raspy) repeats the phrase "bobbity, bobbity, bobbity-boo" until it gets lodged in your brain. Another favorite song of mine is "The Planetarium," which although is written from the point of the parent taking his son to the planetarium is written with the words of a child ("Then a baby cried and had to go outside / While we watched the lights / Stretch across the black dome sky.")
To talk about the lyrics is to miss the album's chief allure, which is its music. As noted above, some of the musical transitions are seamless. Which isn't to say this is an entirely low-key album. "There Goes the Band" lists 13 people playing or singing on the track. "The Elephant Walk" sounds not a little bit like Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk." The lullabies at the end of the album are sweet as well.
I can't review this album without noting the album packaging, which is one of the best I've seen this year. Lyrics, gorgeous illustrations by Christopher Shotola-Hardt, activities are in the liner notes, along with an explanation of what various people on the album (producer, engineer, visual artist) actually do.
The album is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 9, though it may create fans of parents who are 39. You can hear samples of 5 songs at the album's CD Baby page and hear "Baseball, Baseball" here.
Stephen Cohen's album is a little bit like what might happen if Mr. David and Randy Newman decided to record a kids' album live on Prairie Home Companion. Here Comes the Band establishes a mood and a world that will draw in you and your kids. It may not be the album your family listens to every day for a month, but it will be one you listen to occasionally for many years. Recommended.