After hearing his debut kids' CD Stomp Yer Feet!, I saddled the Seattle-based musician Johnny Bregar with perhaps an unfortunate tag -- the next Raffi. I considered it a compliment, thinking of Bregar's gifted voice and occasionally soulful reinterpretation of preschooler classics, but there are enough people out there who have such a knee-jerk reaction to the mere mention of Raffi's name that I didn't expect it to be a marketing gold mine.
On his second album for kids, the just-released Hootenanny, Bregar neatly escapes the "next Raffi" tag by pitching his songs at a slightly older crowd. Gone are toddler classics such as "If You're Happy and You Know It" or "I've Been Working on the Railroad," in are folk classics for a slightly older crowd -- the revved-up album opener "Old Dan Tucker" or the straight-up folk last track "Eastbound Freight Train." The younger kids aren't completely ignored -- somewhere Dr. John is crossing "Miss Mary Mack" off his songs-to-record list because Bregar's soulful version will work just as well -- but this time they're the exception and not the rule. I also like his gently bouncing version of "Don't Fence Me In," with an occasional kids' chorus that suggests the lyrics don't just apply to adult cowboys.
Bregar puts a few more original songs on the new album, and for the most part, they're very good. Songs like "Best Friend" and "Airplane" speak to aspirations of five-year-olds. If there's a drawback to the songs, which sound great, is that they're all very Adult Album Alternative-sounding. As opposed to the goofiness of, say, "Pancakes" or "Blah de la" off Stomp Yer Feet!, the songs here are all very polished and may or may not capture kids' fancies.
The album's musicianship is always first-rate, and Bregar has a great voice, one of those things you don't appreciate unless you've heard a lot of kids' music and realize that there aren't that many kids' musicians with great voices. He sounds ever so slightly like Bruce Springsteen and a lot like Justin Currie, the lead singer for the '90s pop band Del Amitri -- in fact, there's even a hint of Del Amitri's sound in the album. (Should I start the rumor that Bregar is actually Currie's alter ego?)
The album's most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 8. You can hear clips from both of Bregar's albums here.
Hootenanny is another strong album from Johnny Bregar, with many songs kids and their adults can enjoy. If it doesn't quite reach the heights of Stomp Yer Feet!, that's only because that album set the bar so high, and if you were scared by the "next Raffi" tag, it's OK to come back -- Bregar's now setting his own path worth following. Definitely recommended.