Review: The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides - Various Artists

BottleLetMeDown.jpgChicago's Bloodshot Records is known for for their insurgent country, or some other name for music that sounds like country but sounds nothing like Nashville. With their 2002 compilation The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides, Bloodshot could easily have staked their claim to "insurgent kids music." (Or, even more marbly-mouthed, "y'all-kid-ternative.")

With a broad range of "adult" artists (from Alejandro Escovedo to Freakwater to Nora O'Connor and Steve Frisbie -- partner in Frisbie with Justin Roberts accomplice Liam Davis) and a collection of both kids' classics and originals, it's hard to summarize the 26-track, 63-minute album. But the one word that keeps coming back to me as I think of the CD is fun. On many kids' albums from "adult" artists, you get the feeling that the musicians are deigning to play this "kids' music," and it shows in a song that, well, isn't much fun to listen to. Not here -- the musicians are having fun playing these funds, and it shows. The Waco Brothers' spirited take on the folk classic, "The Fox," and the Asylum Street Spankers' punked-up bluegrass version of "I Am My Own Grandpa" shows no signs of "well, let's make a track for the kiddies." They're making tracks that any music fan would appreciate, kids not excluded. The Cornell Hurd Band's original "Don't Wipe Your Face On Your Shirt," is an amusing plea for respectability most parents will relate to, while Escovedo's live version of his "Sad & Dreamy (The Big 1-0)" (with the chorus of "I'm the big 1-0 / Candy just doesn't taste as sweet anymore") will ring bells with the tween set.

Like you would expect from an album produced by an "insurgent country" record label, many of the tracks are not sanitized. Carolyn Mark's fun retelling of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" doesn't sand off the rough edges of the story, for example, and Devil in a Woodpile's swampy cover of Mississippi John Hurd's "Funky Butt," is just what you might expect from the song title. And while most tracks stay safely on the parental side of appropriateness, Robbie Fulks' "Godfrey" (about an sickly, unemployed magician) and Freakwater's inneuendo-filled "Little Red Riding Hood" are probably way on that other side. The parents themselves will probably like those songs while thinking repeatedly, "Should I fast-forward? I should probably fast-forward. Right? Tell me I'm right."

Some of the tracks are appropriate for kids as young as three, though the album is appropriate for kids who are as old as 10 as well. You can hear samples at any major online retailer.

In the end, this is a solid album with no weak tracks. Your kids won't even know that they're being exposed to a great collection of bands and songs, they'll just love these energetic renditions. And so will you. It's probably the best compilation of adult-musicians-doing-kids-music out there; its status as a minor classic (or even a major one) is deserved. Highly recommended.