Longtime fixtures of the Austin music scene (with fans in the U.S. and abroad), the Asylum Street Spankers would probably rank low on the list of bands you'd expect to see turning out a kids' album. Any band that counts EPs entitled Dirty Ditties and Nasty Novelties as part of their discography clearly hasn't made their name by recording albums suitable for use in your kid's preschool.
So it's not unreasonable to ask -- is Mommy Says No!, their first family-friendly kids album, really family-friendly or for kids?
The answer is yes, sort of, mostly. The band, who have made their name playing a broad range of musical genres using acoustic instrumentation, apply that same formula to a more benign set of song topics. Learning to ride a bicycle ("Training Wheel Rag"), wondering about being an adult ("When I Grow Up"), or being afraid of the dark ("Don't Turn Out the Light") -- these are all standard subject matter for kids music. But rather than setting those topics to pop fare, they turn them into a swinging rag (with some killer fiddle), funky New Orleans brass-band strut, and a sweet pop tune interrupted by some "Thriller"-like vocals. Whatever the style, throughout the album, the band sounds great.
What distinguishes the album from most in the genre is its winking sense of humor, which at times ignores the kids and aims straight at the parents and at times may give parents pause. More benignly is Christina Marrs' "Be Like You," a sweet little ditty with toy piano and a background chorus of the guys in the band sounding like SNL's old "Unfrozen Cavemen Lawyers." Wammo's "You Only Love Me For My Lunchbox" may have some of the more nervous parents in the crowd skipping for the next track as Wammo leads the rest of the band through a set of tongue-twisters that ends with one more apropos for the over-21 crowd. The band's bluegrass cover of Nirvana's "Sliver" is downright awesome, though lyrically ("Mom and dad went to a show / they dropped me off at Grandpa Joe's / I kicked and screamed, said please no / Grandma take me home") is hardly the paean to childhood a lot of parents want. (Whether kids appreciate the familiarity of the situation is another matter.)
With all due respect to Trout Fishing in America's "Alien in My Nose," I shouldn't let this review go on without noting the best song about snot ever written, the wildly amusing "Boogers" -- it strikes the perfect balance between juvenile humor for the kids and sly references (Quiet Riot -- haven't thought about them for years) for the adults.
So, I'm pegging the age range at between 4 and 9 years of age, though a couple of the songs on the 46-minute album do seem pegged somewhat above the 4-year-old mark. The album's been available at the Spankers' website since August 2006, but is getting a proper release next week. You can hear a medley of songs there or go to major internet retailers to hear snippets.
In the end, sometimes the band is referred to as, simply, "The Spankers." Whether you think that's a particularly good or bad name for a band recording an album for kids will go a long way toward determining whether you like the album. Some mommies will say "no" to Mommy Says No!. A sizeable minority of families won't like it all. But I think most people who are reading this review here will find it a hoot, energetic enough and tuned into kids' lives for the kids, while entertaining for their elders. Definitely recommended.