Despite the fact that everybody and their drummer is recording kids music these days, it still takes a certain amount of courage for an artist to release a kids' CD as their very first album.
So kudos to Nashville-based Steve Lee, who chose the "release the kids' CD" page in the "Choose Your Own Adventure" book of his life and ended up producing something quite worthwhile. What Did You Do Today, Stephen Scott Lee?, released at the tail-end of 2006, weaves together some top-notch songwriting and playing around a story of an eventful day in Steve Lee's childhood.
The 61-minute starts with a New Age-y "Good Morning," with Lee's voice gently urging the listener to wake up over some gentle piano. From there, Lee alternates between skits in which he plays a young Stephen Scott Lee and songs which provide some moral commentary on the action. Lee gets bullied around, rides the bus to the zoo, gets knocked out, goes to the doctor, watches a movie, and gets ready for bed. I don't think anybody would listen to the CD for the skits (except for those hooked into the Nashville music scene as some of the skits feature cameos by local artists), but they do provide a context for the songs.
Make no mistake, it's the songs that make this CD so worthwhile. The dozen or so music tracks are solid. Some of the tracks ("Wake Up," "Sharing is Caring") sound a little bit like early Wilco. Lee's voice will remind you of one of the singers from Barenaked Ladies and the music does somewhat, too. Many of the tracks give off a very Polyphonic Spree vibe. My favorite track -- definitely on the album, and quite possibly of the year -- is "Grab A Balloon." It takes a minute or so for the track to pick up speed, but when it does, it's accompanied by a heart so big ("Life is your book, it's being written as we speak / But you should know no matter where you go, your heart is your home") that it's impossible to listen without smiling.
Many of the songs have a definite lesson-teaching component -- share stuff ("Sharing is Caring"), be responsible ("Responsibility Song"), take a breath when you're mad ("Count 2 10"). Normally I tend to discount songs that take that sort of approach, but in this case, Lee and his fellow musicians (a whole bunch of Nashville-area artists) are having so much fun with the infectious melodies that my reservations were wiped out. (Besides, Lee isn't above having a little fun undercutting the moral tone, telling people in one of the zoo-related tracks to "watch out for the doo-doo.")
With What Did You Do Today, Stephen Scott Lee?, Steve Lee has captured the highs and lows of being a kid, not only from the child's perspective, but also with some adult 20/20 hindsight. All that, and a tasty musical package, too. Definitely recommended.