Review: Mr. Oscat Says... - Mr. Oscat

MrOscatSays.jpgSometimes people hear kids' music and think, "Hey, I could do that!" Sometimes those people decide they'll try their hand at writing and recording kids music of their own. At which point they find out it's lot harder than it looks. (No, I'm not speaking from personal recording experience, just lots of personal listening experience.)

Occasionally, though, somebody makes it look, well, if not easy, at least not incredibly difficult, either.

Case in point: Bakersfield, California's Mr. Oscat and their debut CD, Mr. Oscat Says.... Inspired by watching Noggin and thinking "I can write songs like that," and by kiddie new wave artists like Dan Zanes and Farmer Jason, Olen Taylor went ahead and did just that. The resulting is a pleasing new CD by a family band in the best sense of the word. The name of the band reflects the initials of the first names of the Taylor family (Olen, his wife Susan, and kids Caitlin and Alison) plus "T" for Taylor, and all four contribute to the disk. Olen does the lion's share of the work, writing or co-writing all but one track, but Susan co-wrote some tracks, and the kids lend their vocals.

Olen Taylor used to lead a roots-rock band called the Wichitas, and that roots-rock sound certainly makes an appearance on the disk ("Ducks in a Row," the vaguely Key Wilde-esque "Big Dog," and the Bakersfieldian country swing of "All You Wanna Do Is Play"), but the best tracks have a more pop-rock sound. "Mama Wants You To Dress Up (But You Don't Want To)" has a great singalong chorus ("'Cuz everybody knooooowwwws / what mama says, goes!"). "What's That Smell?" is Postal Service-style techno for kids ("Maybe Daddy's cooking chicken / Maybe he'll let us sample some...") And the best track, "Mr. Oscat Says," melds power-pop, techno, and Americana. The 9 originals here are all well-written songs.

The downside of a home-produced CD, though, can be a less-than-fully-realized sound, and there are points here where I was left wishing that Taylor had left the midi samples and Garageband tinkering by the wayside and instead called in some of his old bandmates. In particular, the album's songs reminded me a little bit of Turn It Up, Mommy! from the DC-based band the RTTs, and I was left longing for how that album took a bunch of solidly-crafted songs and added the RTTs bar-band sound to great effect. The album sounds OK, and the vocals are good all around (really, this is one of the better albums out there for effective use of kids and friends), but could have sounded great with a few more instruments in the mix.

The songs here are going to be most pleasing to kids ages 3 through 8. You can hear samples at the album's CDBaby page or at the band's website.

For an album whose genesis, according to the liner notes, was that "two people challenged us to do this recording," Mr. Oscat Says... is going to be a pretty hard to top. ("We did it. And now we challenge back. Your turn. Make family music.") And while I wish the home-produced aspect of the recording hadn't been so apparent, that's just because the songs here are lots of fun and I think the CD could've approached something near awesome territory. Oh, well, there's always next time. I sure hope there's a next time, in any case, because this first time was pretty good. Recommended.