Review in Brief: ABC-sides - Uncle Widget

ABC-sides.jpgI like deadlines. Be it at work or trying to finish a review, it usually helps me to have a due date, however artificial, staring me in the face.

The same principle underlies the RPM Challenge, which challenged musicians to "record an album in 28 days, just because you can." It was a response to the 2007 challenge that led South Carolina musician Bryan Murdaugh to complete his second Uncle Widget CD, ABC-sides.

Murdaugh must work well faced with deadlines, too, because there are some pretty good cuts here. The leadoff track "Snack Time" has a nice Jack Johnson-goes-electronica feel while "Tickle Monster" relies on the riff from Golden Smog's "Corvette." The songs' themes will be familiar to any preschooler (or their parents) -- the titles alone ("Why," "Makin' a Mess," "Ready To Grow Up," for example) are a pretty clear indication of the concerns here.

One downside of such a quick turnaround time is that there might not be enough time to polish up the songs. Murdaugh plays all the music on the album, including programming the keyboards, drum loops, and occasional bleeps and bloops. (The press release name-checking The Postal Service is dead-on.) Some of the tracks with a more minimalist feel, such as "Ready To Grow Up," work OK, but others, such as "Rockinghorse Cowboy" just sound underproduced. (And the two more obvious message songs on the CD, "I Need To Share" and "I Wanna Help" fall into this latter category, which makes the message harder to endure.) The downside of the RPM Challenge is that it precluded taking another month or two, which could have been used to polish these songs either lyrically or musically.

Given the fairly direct topical aim at late-preschool-age kids, the 33-minute CD is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 6. You can hear samples from all the tracks at the album's CD Baby page or "Makin' a Mess" at Uncle Widget's homepage. [And, for those who care, it currently comes produced on a CD-R. Not a big deal to some, but might be to a few.]

While this is by no means a perfect CD, ABC-sides contains some really good songs. A lot of artists would be lucky to write and record that many good songs in a month. Given the opportunity to fine-tune his songs, Bryan Murdaugh's next Uncle Widget CD (the forthcoming Uncle Widget... Goes To First Grade) is probably one worth watching out for.