With all apologies due to Spinal Tap, there's a fine line between sweet and schmaltzy in children's music. Topics that in one musician's hands produce a moment of "A-ha! That's how life is!" in another's hands produce a moment of "Duh. Of course that's how life is." Frankly, the same track can produce those two moments in two different families.
On his very recently released fourth CD for kids, Everybody Plays Air Guitar, Austin-based Joe McDermott very carefully walks that fine line. How you feel about the CD depends on how sweet you and your family like your music.
Let me start out with the album's strengths, which I found to be the simpler tracks in concept (if not necessarily execution). The leadoff title track (bolstered by its simple but catchy chorus) basically just talks about how great it is to "air guitar" (yes, that's a verb). On the closing track, "Anything Is Possible," McDermott channels a little mid-career James Taylor in a sweet ode to possibility. And the album's strongest cut, the poppy "Dolphins," is a trifle of an idea with far-ranging lyrical flights of fancy (Hemingway, AFLAC insurance). "Ride, Ride, Ride," a live cut, while out of place mixed in with its more polished companions, shows off McDermott's sense of humor.
There are other tracks, however, that a number of listeners will probably tune out, "Sport Comes to the Rescue" and "Our Family Car Is A Helicopter" are a little goofy, but there's something about the humor that doesn't pack much of a punch. (They're not as sharp as McDermott's earlier, classic track, "Baby Kangaroo," which worked so well on so many different levels.) It's not that the songs are bad or arranged poorly -- in fact, McDermott's attention to detail is well-appreciated (check out the string quartet on "Momma's Gonna Have a Baby"). But some listeners -- and you know who you are -- will just find those tracks a hard slog.
The songs on the 36-minute album are most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. You can hear samples from the CD at its CD Baby page or previous cuts (including "Baby Kangaroo") here for his last album, with links to other albums, too.)
In the end, if I sound a little conflicted in this review, it's because I am to some extent. There are some great songs here, and there are some that, while, expertly done, just don't have much "pop." So while I'm recommending the CD, it's really a combination of the people who will find this album absolutely wonderful and of the people who will find it, well, just a bit too safe. But, overall, recommended.