Review Two-Fer: My Best Friend is a Salamander / My Lemonade Stand - Peter Himmelman

In reviewing music here, I've tried not only to cover the latest releases from musicians familiar and not, but also filling in gaps from albums released - gasp! - more than a couple years ago, especially from significant artists. Consider this the missing pieces of my Peter Himmelman coverage, the other two albums for families I've not yet reviewed here.

MyBestFriendIsASalamander.jpgMy Best Friend is a Salamander, released in 1997, was Himmelman's first album for kids and families, and the first thing you might be struck by in listening to it is how it could have been released this year. Ten years later, and Himmelman's still taking socially exciting trips. What is different is just how... odd those first songs were. While on his excellent 2007 release My Green Kite he's singing about kites or feet --fairly recognizable subjects treated in mostly recognizable ways -- early on he had a much more skewed, Shel Silverstein-esque approach. He sings about his best friend... who's a salamander. In "Larry's a Sunflower Now," a dreamy adult-sounding pop tune, the narrator (who poured water all around the subject to help him grow) tells Larry's worried mom," Look at the bright side / There's nothing you can do / Larry's gettin' lots of fresh air / The sun is on his faces and / Birds are in his hair today." Himmelman's fascination with rhyming wordplay -- which continues today -- is most evident here on the gentle "An Ant Named Jane," though a number of other songs have the touch of spoken-word.

Seven years later and one album in the meantime...
MyLemonadeStand.jpg... Himmelman released My Lemonade Stand in 2004. After the very-weird-at-times My Fabulous Plum (review here), My Lemonade Stand seems downright conventional. Listened to on its own, however, it's still got its fair share of only-in-Himmelman weirdness. The nine-year-old subject of the tinged-with-sadness "Beard Boy" grows a beard and all of a sudden reads the Wall Street Journal. "Murray Malone" is a trumpet-playing mouse (who does indeed play a pretty mean trumpet). And while Himmelman still indulges his fondness for rhymeplay, especially in extended outros, here he's crafting more direct pop tunes -- the summery title track, the revved-up gospel-tinged "That's No Lie," and my favorite track, the blue-eyed soul of "Willa," about an excitable little dog. And the album closer, "Love Can Travel," tells a story of two kids separated by a move who continue their friendship with a chorus that soars every time it's repeated.

Both albums are targeted for kids ages 3 through 9. You can hear samples and tracks at Himmelman's here.

Both albums are pretty good, though I think My Lemonade Stand is definitely the better album, particularly if you've enjoyed My Green Kite. They're both recommended, however -- your preference may primarily depend on your family's appreciation for Silverstein-style oddity.