Review: Little Mo' McCoury - Little Mo' McCoury

LittleMoMcCoury.jpgI play the violin and not the fiddle, so my bluegrass bona fides are slim. But I'm familiar with Del McCoury, who's been making bluegrass music for a long time, and making music with his sons for a couple decades or more.

No, Del does not have a son named "Little Mo'" -- that's just a fancy moniker for one of his sons, Ronnie McCoury, who essentially leads the Del McCoury Band through a kid-friendly bluegrass album. They're billing this self-titled Little Mo' McCoury album, released this week, as the first all-bluegrass album for kids, which it pretty much is, though there are other albums that come close to the mark (Phil Rosenthal's Folksongs & Bluegrass For Children collection, Grisman and Garcia's Not For Kids Only, which McCoury cites as an inspiration).

The album could have been an excuse to run through traditional kids' songs in a bluegrass style -- think something like Pickin' On Raffi -- but thankfully McCoury and his band avoid the cliches and provide a nice introduction to bluegrass. In fact, the strongest tracks here are the ones most kids and many listeners, including this one, will be unfamiliar with. "Barefoot Nellie" is an instrumental showpiece, guaranteed to get all but the most somnolent kids hopping. "Mama's Blues" features some great banjo picking from Ronnie's brother Rob in which the instrument takes the place -- and the voice -- of a young child.

Most of the rest of the album also works well. There are solid renditions of old standbys "The Fox" and "Teddy Bears' Picnic," which will be familiar to a number of listeners, and McCoury's original "My Friend, My Guitar," co-written with his wife Allison, is a decent song which also illustrates how to play a G-run guitar lick. I can't say that their takes on Randy Newman's Toy Story song "You've Got a Friend in Me" or the traditional "Big Rock Candy Newman" were revelatory -- I'm too used to other versions, perhaps -- and a few other songs left me with a similar "that's nice, what's next" feeling, but the playing throughout is expert.

Given the songs covered here, kids ages 2 through 7 are most likely to enjoy the CD, though this is more of an all-ages set than many. You can hear clips from the 49-minute CD all over the internet, but you might want to check out their Myspace page for four cuts, or my most recent NPR appearance to play the energetic "Barefoot Nellie."

There is nothing revolutionary about Little Mo' McCoury, it's simply a nice mixture of well-played kid-focused and kid-friendly bluegrass tunes that will serve as a decent introduction to the bluegrass genre. It's another sign that hopefully the kids music genre is maturing a little bit and expanding beyond the folk and pop-rock that has been its bread and butter up to now. Recommended.