If Smithsonian Folkways is looking for another kids' musician to join Elizabeth Mitchell on the label, I've got a suggestion: how about Enzo Garcia? His latest album, LMNO Music (Pink) (2006), has echoes of Folkways standbys Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Ella Jenkins, but makes the mostly traditional songs sound his own.
The San Francisco-based Garcia runs a music program, LMNO Music, for pre-elementary-aged kids and the album gives the listener some indication of what the classes might be like -- Garcia encouraging the crowd in a round of "Row Your Boat," or the hand-play of his original "Let's Make Pizza." In this sense, it's a very Ella-like record. On the other hand, Garcia's distinct voice and his banjo playing will remind the listener of Pete Seeger. And on the, er, other hand, his willingness to sing a cappella will remind others of Woody Guthrie. And for those of you with four hands, Garcia isn't content just to record traditional folk and kids' songs -- the album's standout song is the hypnotic "Hold My Hand," for which it took me several listens absorbing the layers of sound before I fully comprehended that it's another listener participation song.
The album is about as ambitious instrumentally as it is possible for a single artist to get -- the tinkling toy piano on "Oh, Oh the Sunshine," is about par for the course. While dependent on guitars and banjos to ground the songs, Garcia is a sound collagist, picking a choosing instruments to fill out the sound. If there's an oddness (in a good sense) to the music on the album, it's helped along by musical guest Ralph Carney, who's also recorded with another stellar sound collagist, Tom Waits.
The songs here are best for kids ages 2 through 6, though the creative approaches to familiar tunes throughout the album make it accessible to kids older than 6. You can sample tracks at the album's CDBaby page.
Garcia's willingness to extend the boundaries of what traditional music and new folk and kids music might sound like differentiates him from many solo artists. It's time for a new generation of kids' musicians willing to claim these folk songs as there own. Are you listening, Folkways? Recommended.