I would call Owen Duggan the "next Raffi," but the problem is, I already did that with someone else. And even if I no longer believed it (which I do), it would look pretty foolish of me to recant scant weeks later. So let me put it this way -- Owen Duggan is Raffi.
Or, to put it another way, Duggan's late 2005 debut album An Elephant Never Forgets is the album that Raffi could've recorded after The Corner Grocery Store, had he decided to continue mining the vein of classic kids' songs, folk songs, and other musical traditions instead of becoming increasingly concerned with ecology and children -- all Good Things, no doubt, but far from where Raffi started. But Duggan has the sweet voice (here's a man who needs to record "Puff the Magic Dragon") and talented backing musicians that makes Raffi's work so pleasant to listen to.
Duggan, a San Antonio-based music teacher, has put together a wonderful group of musicians to back up this collection of Duggan originals and classic tunes. The gentle humor of the album is evident in one of my favorite tracks, the zippy "The Ants," better known as "The Ants Go Marching." Duggan and his band gives the song an increasingly manic energy, which is released in a jazzy musical outro. I especially liked the brass work of Ron Wilkins throughout the album, but the whole set of jazz and folk musicians who back him up are top-notch. The music switches between gentle kids folk music (the Duggan original "The Elephant Song" and "I Got the Baby Blues"), covers of classics (Tom Paxton's oft-recorded "The Marvelous Toy"), authentic folk music (the energetic fiddle tune "The Green Meadow"), and jazz (the Ellington/Strayhorn "Happy Go Lucky Local"). Duggan closes out the album with a couple lovely lullabies, which seems to be the standard for kids' albums nowadays. (Almost makes me nostalgic for the Raffi albums, which sometimes ended up on an uptempo note.)
This album is targeted right at kids ages 2 through 6. You can hear samples here and order the disk at Duggan's website or the standard Amazon/CDBaby/iTunes trio.
If Raffi makes your eyelid twitch erratically, I really can't recommend the disk to you. But if you have an appreciation for Raffi's work, and are looking for something else besides to play, An Elephant Never Forgets is a nice collection, a little jazzier, a little poppier than Raffi, and every bit as well done. Recommended.