Boston-based folk-pop artist Vanessa Trien's debut kids' album, Hot Air Balloon (2006), is one of those albums for which your opinion depends upon your tolerance of earnestness in kids' music. There are plenty of adults dipping their toes into the ocean of kids' music for whom everything sounds like the old Simpsons group "Hooray For Everything" -- relentlessly peppy. And for those adults, their appreciation of this album may take awhile. Part of the reason for this is that Trien, who's also recorded for adults, has loaded the peppiest songs at the front of the CD. Sometimes the songs strike a nice balance -- the gorgeous leadoff pop ballad "Hello World," the bluegrass of "Good Morning!" And sometimes they veer over the line (or my line, at least), such as on the semi-rapped "Backward Alphabet Craze" or the cutesy reggae "Bluenanas and Bananaberries."
But all of a sudden, on track 8, "Wyona Wide," Trien strings together four songs that seem to come from an entirely different album. It's as if the first seven tracks were for the four-year-olds (and 3 of them were indeed written for a Montessori school at which Trien taught) and the last four were written for seven-year-olds. They're a little less peppy, and include the strong bluegrass tune "End of the Line" (probably my favorite cut on the album, and the least kid-centric) and the sun-dappled pop tune "Island in the Sun."
One constant, however, is the solid musicianship on the album -- it sounds fabulous. The 37-minute album is best for kids ages 3 through 8. You can listen to samples from the album here.
Those of you who have an earnestness intolerance should stay away from the CD. But if you're looking for a folkier Milkshake, or for solidly-arranged and played folk-pop kids music, Hot Air Balloon is worth a spin.