It's fair to say that a lot of the attention trained on the "new" breed of kids' musicians has been on the rock/pop genre. (I use "new" advisedly, because we all know that there's no such thing as an overnight sensation, especially in kids' music.) Which is somewhat unfair to musicians like Massachusetts-based Ben Rudnick & Friends, who've spent most of the past decade playing rootsier music, spending as much time with, say, bluegrass as with pop.
Well, on their fifth and recently-released album Grace's Bell, Rudnick and the band show no signs of changing their approach. They continue playing songs that wander down the backroads of family-friendly music. From the opening track "My Name is Ben," which reworks "Old MacDonald" into a twangy band introduction to the uptempo clarinet-accented rendition of the classic "When the Saints Go Marching In," the album often sounds like it comes from a world untouched by American Idol or high-definition televsion.
The album's primary strength is Rudnick's band, a talented group of instrumentalists that give the songs a thoroughly professional (though definitely not overproduced) sheen. The band just sounds good, unsurprising given the band's live reputation. When married to good songs such as the poppy "Vowels" or the world/country "Cowgirl Song" (featuring some nifty pedal steel work from New Riders of the Purple Sage's Buddy Cage), the effect is thrilling. My favorite track is the loping "Tuba Tune," which features a full brass backing band, of course -- it seems like there might be room for it in a second line parade somewhere in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. If there was anything that kept me from completely being overwhelmed, it was that sometimes the band jammed on too long on songs that just weren't as strong as those mentioned above. "Chet's Fabulous Diner," for example, just doesn't earn the 5-plus minutes it's given here.
I'd peg the album as being most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 9. You can hear samples either at Rudnick's website or the album's CD Baby page.
With Grace's Bell, Ben Rudnick and Friends have recorded an album of traditional and band favorites in their rootsy Americana style. If you have any interest in these more traditional styles performed with vigor and energy, you'll definitely want to check this album out, and even those weaned on a more rock/pop diet will probably find enough tracks worth singing along or dancing to. Recommended.