Review: Down at the Zoo - George Carver / Papa Mali

DownAtTheZoo.jpgUsually when I review CDs that aren't of the most recent vintage, it's because I want to go back and touch on a reasonably well-known CD and see whether or not it's stood the test of time (recognizing that that test might just be two or three years long). I've been writing reviews in one form or another for five years now, and even though I might not have reviewed everything, I've heard quite a bit, and heard of a lot more. But every now and then I stumble across a CD that makes we wonder how this escaped my radar screen.

Down at the Zoo falls into the latter category.

Even though I'm just now hearing the CD, it didn't completely escape notice -- it won an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal award. But this 2002 disk, from Austin musicians George Carver and Malcolm "Papa Mali" Welbourne (each with more "adult" recordings and bands), deserves greater attention, even almost five years later, because it's an excellent collection of family-friendly tunes.

The 35-minute CD includes 10 songs, all about the zoo or zoo animals. This theme, however, doesn't become at all tiring because the tracks are so strong. From the Cajun-styled opening title track all the way through to the final reggae tune, "Jammin' at the Zoo," Carver and Welbourne have crafted strong melodies and matched them with accessible lyrics. The pure country of "I Don't Like My Cage" touches on the good and bad of zoos for endangered species ("I don't like my cage / It's not where I should be / But it's all that's keeping my kind / from being a memory.")

On top of that, Carver and Welbourne have recruited an able group of musicians to join them on these tunes, which besides those mentioned above include the folk-blues ("They Got Feet"), big band ("Jungle Swingers"), and what a Tom Waits kids' track might sound like ("Snake House"). The band really tears it up on my favorite track, the soulful and funky "The Funky Yak."

The album's best for kids ages 2 through 7, though older kids may still dig it well past the age of 7. You can hear samples at the album's CDBaby page.

Better late than never? In this case, yes. Down at the Zoo may be five years old, but this fine album is worth a listen even today. Definitely recommended.