Lost amid all the talk of hootenannies lately is this crucial point:
They're not always all that interesting for the audience.
Sure, it can be a blast playing music with friends, challenging one another, exploring new music. Sometimes magic happens for musician and listener alike. But sometimes all you're left with is "Jazz Odyssey," of little interest to the people listening.
Tabletop People Vol. 1 & 2 (2005) is an album that grew out of a hootenanny and became a CD that many readers and families out there will absolutely love.
The core of Session Americana consists of six Boston-area musicians with many other gigs; the band itself is known for their roots-rock jams in increasingly large local venues. They recorded the album in the same way they play their shows -- gathered in a circle, with guests joining in. The band's long experience playing live shines through on the CD -- the music is accomplished but with a looseness that makes the joy (and, occasionally, sadness) stand out.
The album starts off with with an invigorating bluegrass take on "Boats Up the River," so propulsive that one of the band members shouts "Don't stop now!" midway through. And they don't, from a rootsy take on Jonathan Richman's "Party in the Woods" (led by former Richman bandmate Asa Brebner) to a gently swinging "Merzidotes" to the best version of "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" on record (emphasizing the "uh-HUH" part gives it a great singalong feel).
And that's just the first CD.
Yes, in the spirit of Wilco's great Being There album, this 59-minute album is split into two CDs. The second CD is listed as more introspective, a distinction that is somewhat hard to hear (there are introspective tracks on the first CD, too), but the split does make it easier to take just a 30-minute CD break. The second CD includes the languid indie-pop "Floppy Tulips," a rockin' alt-country' "Mr. Rabbit" (which, well, would have fit perfectly on Being There or A.M., musically at least), and the final two songs "Point of No Return" and "Trouble Wheel." These last two are not kids' songs by any stretch of the imagination -- they're the songs you hear at the end of the night when the kids, exhausted from dancing and playing around, are asleep in your lap just before you head home.
The album's appropriate for listeners age 2 and up, although there are going to be certain songs that the youngsters won't get -- not inappropriate, just not really geared for 'em. You can hear samples of all the tracks at the album's CD Baby page, but I'd recommend going to both their Myspace page as well as their own album page. Each have the same three (full tracks), but the former also includes "Mr. Rabbit" and the latter also includes "Boats in the River."
Fans of Dan Zanes, Dog on Fleas, and Elizabeth Mitchell will especially hold this album dear, but so will a bunch of other listeners. Sometimes hootenannies leave the listener a little flat, but at times they can be graced by magic. Tabletop People Vol. 1 & 2 falls in the latter category. Highly recommended.