Pity the preschool children's musician. Forced to play the same set of familiar songs at least some of the time, yet Raffi (and before him, Ella Jenkins, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Woody Guthrie) got there first and staked their claim. Few artists have managed to make a career out of playing the songs that the above artists perfected. (And believe me, many have tried. And failed.) Laurie Berkner is perhaps the only modern artist who's completely succeeded, and her fame is as much for her original music as it is for her rendition of traditional classics.
In walks Johnny Bregar and his late-2005 kids' music debut Stomp Yer Feet!. Bregar, a Seattle-based musician, played in local folk/rock band Big Spoon and found the selection of kids' music for his preschool-aged son wanting. His debut is a stellar collection of mostly traditional folk and other children's tunes, dusted off and given a fresh coat of paint.
The album starts off with "If You're Happy And You Know It," played with soul on an electric Rhodes piano ("just like Ray Charles used to play," Bregar writes in the song notes), and immediately all the characteristics of this winning album are revealed -- real instruments both familiar and rare, new sets of lyrics to traditional songs, and Bregar's rich and ever-so-slightly-raspy voice . The "Alphabet Song?" 12-bar blues. "Polly Wolly Doodle?" A little bit of Dixieland, a lot more bluegrass. "Waltzing Matilda" sounds as if it was recorded 60 years ago (but with much better recording equipment). And the ukelele just rocks.
All of which might get tiresome eventually if it weren't for the fact that the few originals on the 42-minute disc are pretty good, too. "Blah de la" might get annoying after listening to it 100 times, but its simplicity also makes it a perfect fit for the album -- even the youngest preschooler could probably get the hang of it and sing along. "Pancakes" is another simple cut, not much more than a chorus, but one that Matthew Sweet would be happy to record. And the one fully-realized original, "Moon," about wanting to touch things a kid probably shouldn't, is the song the Counting Crows will record when they eventually decide to stop recording songs for PG-rated movies and set their sights on G-rated movies.
I hate to do this to the guy, because Bregar seems like a nice guy, but Johnny Bregar could be the next Raffi. Like Raffi, he's got the musical chops, the sense of humor, and a great voice. (If he's singing about whales 10 years from now, I can't be held responsible.) If you're looking for a collection of traditional kids' songs, and you either already have Raffi's collections or you can't stand Raffi's collections, you should really check out Stomp Yer Feet! -- Bregar's staking his claim to that niche of kids' music. Highly recommended.