A hazard in reviewing kids' music is the need to be conversant with a broad range of musical styles. For "adult" music, editors generally wouldn't have the same person reviewing classical music and metal, but in this field, well, anything goes.
So when the press release for It's A Bam Bam Diddly!, the first CD for Rankin' Don aka Wayne Rhoden aka Father Goose on Dan Zanes' Festival Five Records, lists a whole bunch of special guests, they are names that don't mean anything to me. Unless you're an expert in Caribbean or dancehall music, they probably won't mean anything to you, either.
And you know what? You won't care -- you'll think the album's great.
In essence, this album is exactly what a Dan Zanes album might sound like if Zanes made a Caribbean album. Zanes is like the Jon Stewart of the kids music field -- he's helped invigorate the genre and has surrounded himself with a bunch of talented musicians who get his approach. And so just as Stephen Colbert has branched out on his own, Father Goose has created his own world here.
In fact, just like Zanes on his kids' CDs, Father Goose often stays in the background on this disk, content to be the ringleader and letting the other artists shine. Father Goose introduces the winsome "Panama," but it's guests Gaston "Bonga" Jean-Baptiste and longtime Zanes artist Barbara Brousal who carry the vocals. Two of my favorite tracks -- "Long Time Gal" and "Nah Eat No Fish," which both sound very much like they could appear on a Zanes CD -- feature Judith Murray and Aggie.
It's not to say he's not around -- Father Goose adds humorous counterpoint to the Dan Zanes / Sheryl Crow duet on "Flying Machine" and has spoken-word interludes on Zanes' rendition of Harry Belafonte's moving "Island in the Sun." But he's content to blend in on songs like the lovely waltz "Jane and Louisa" or "Chi Chi Buddo," with the title phrase getting stuck in your head.
In fact, these aren't really downsides to the CD, but you should be aware that it's definitely not the "Father Goose Show," in case your kids are huge Father Goose fans from the Zanes CDs. Nor is it really as uptempo and high-energy as the role he plays on Zanes' CDs and (especially) in concert. It's really for slightly older kids, and while it's not sleepy-time music, it's not bounce-around music either.
I think the songs here are best for kids ages 4 through 9, though perfectly OK for younger kids, and, frankly, this really is an all-ages album in the best Zanes-ian tradition. You can listen to some samples from the 53-minute album here or elsewhere around the web.
I feel bad about mentioning Dan Zanes' name so much, because It's A Bam Bam Diddly! is a strong album, and Father Goose really deserves credit for being such a great ringleader. I think in part it's because I know a lot of people might be interested in this CD because of their previous enjoyment of Zanes' CDs and to those fans I say, "get this album -- you won't be disappointed." But just as Stephen Colbert has created his own career outside of Jon Stewart, with this CD Father Goose shows he's a force to be reckoned with, too. Great stuff and hopefully the start of a great run of CDs -- definitely recommended.