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    Review: The Sunny Side of the Street

    SunnySideStreet.jpgI work with someone who has a goal of learning something new, however small, every day. In that spirit, what I learned from "Getting To Know You," the opening track on John Lithgow's third album for kids, The Sunny Side of the Street (2006), is that his last name is pronounced as rhyming with "Miss Go" rather than "Hoosegow," which is how I'd always heard it in my head. So that, however small, was what I learned upon first listen.

    What I knew already going in, and what the album shows repeatedly, is that Lithgow is a fabulous performer. His theatrical background is perfect for these songs, written for vaudeville or musicals in the '20s and '30s. On the best tracks, such as "Baby!" or "Ya Gotta Have Pep," Lithgow lets loose with theatrical abandon (I love the "whampa..." Lithgow unleashes in the middle of what has heretofore been a very mellow duet with Maude Maggart on "Baby!"). Lithgow has a sweet duet with Sherie Rene Scott on the closing track "Lullabye In Ragtime." The tunes are a nice selection of familiar and less-well-known, and the frisky orchestration is stellar, making the songs sound, while not modern, not 80 years old, either.

    Downsides? Well, the duet with Madeleine Peyroux on "On the Sunny Side of the Street" (which I had hopes for) never really gels. It's interrupted by a bunch of kids, which is akin to asking Monet to paint some pretty cathedrals and then having some 7-year-olds from Rouen come in to make some improvements to the canvas. The kids chorus is fine, and in some cases gives Lithgow somebody (or many somebodies) to play off of, but my favorite tracks are those where the kids don't appear. And while some of the less-well-known songs are a joy to discover ("I Always Say Hello To A Flower"), others are much less interesting ("I'm A Manatee.")

    I'm gonna peg this album as being of greatest interest for kids 3 to 7, though obviously most of these songs were originally written for adults and people of all ages. You can hear samples of the 37-minute album at the usual online suspects and see Lithgow's antics in the video for "Ya Gotta Have Pep".

    The album will not change the mind of anyone who doesn't care how bright the lights are on Broadway -- if you are a rockist, you will not like this. Lithgow has recorded some fabulous renditions of these tunes, however, and while it's probably not going to be your favorite album, it's definitely worth trying at least once. Think of it as learning something new, musically at least.

    Reader Comments (6)

    Thanks for the head's up on the new John Lithgow CD. We LOVE his "Singin' In the Bathtub" CD from a few years ago. I recall from those liner notes that, like this latest CD, he felt the songs he grew up listening to (not considered kid's songs back then) would work for all ages today. And they do. His version of "Inchworm" is very sweet. My girls still remember how to add multiples of 2 from listening to it. He is a funny, smart, amazing talent--so glad he's sharing it with kids.
    September 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaty L
    frisky! oy. My kids would love "you gotta have pep". I was just talking to someone yesterday about how some of these songs were not at all silly when they were written but have really changed when taken out of context and with changes in language over 60 or 70 years. Now seen as novelty or ...

    Inchworm and this whole thing makes me think of Danny Kaye. Ah! John Lithgow is very very good. Danny Kaye was great! That's how I learned my 2's. (the good old days - holy smokes! I'm such an adult.)
    September 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdeb in sf
    I didn't realize "Inchworm" was on Singin' -- love that song (so does our daughter). Definitely need to go back and give that a spin.
    September 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterStefan
    I haven't picked up the new CD yet, but Singin' in the Bathtub is one of my favorite albums, kids' music or otherwise. I'm a big Danny Kaye fan, too, and Lithgow definitely has his kind of range comedically, and perhaps more dramatically.
    September 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEric Herman
    Also, here's a link to an interview with John Lithgow about the album and performing for kids. It gets more philosophical near the end of the almost 8-minute piece.
    September 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterStefan
    How about Spike Jones too? Really wacky, creative stuff from the 40s, like "The Knock-Knock Song" which is nothing but--you guessed--knock knock jokes. Last Christmas my husband made some mixed CDs for me (the "Chauffer Series, Vol. 1-1V). Among many others, he threw in some Spike Jones, Barenaked Ladies, Stevie Wonder, John Lithgow and Ralph's World. The kid's love it all.

    As for Danny Kaye, I think Robin Williams owes him a debt of gratitude--not that Williams isn't ridiculously talented in his own right, but get a load of Kaye performing every instrument of an orchestra--in mindnumbing succession--in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." True genius.
    September 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaty Lloyd

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