It is possible that Brooklyn-based Randy Kaplan could become, if he wanted to, the next Dan Zanes, playing for the moms and dads a mixture of blues and rock that works well for both the kids and adults.
But on Loquat Rooftop, his second album for kids, Kaplan continues to follow his own idiosyncratic path that might not generate a deal with the Disney Channel next week, but shows off both his musical and storytelling chops.
Those musical chops are certainly there, as Kaplan's voice, ever-so-slightly nasally and raspy, blends in perfectly with his song choices. A couple songs, such as producer Mike West's amusing "Clothes Dryer" (on which Kaplan dryly notes that he used to love doing laundry so much, he went to "laundry camp") and "The Ladybug Without Spots," employ a strolling New Orleans-jazz-style approach. "Mazal Mazal" is a punkish song about a little kid, while the title track is a gentle folk song. Kids are used as chorus and occasional counterpoint (and a kid named Joe does a great "Boogie Woogie Washer Woman") to good effect.
Kaplan's choices of covers are well-selected -- Huddie Ledbetter's "Good Morning Blues" is a gentle blues which, as you might expect from the title, is more blues in 12-bar structure only. Hank Williams ("Move It On Over"), Lieber and Stoller ("Charlie Brown"), and the musical Annie ("Tomorrow") also make and appearance here, and one of Kaplan's strengths is making those songs sound fresh (and appropriate for kids).
Finally, Kaplan comes from the stories-and-(and-in-)song wing of kids' music, as heard on the silly story about monkeys and ducks "No Nothing" or the sweet "(Don't Say) Anything At All," a message song about not using words as violence. It's the kind of song that, strung together a dozen times, would make most parents' eyes roll, but, as a single song interspersed all the other goofiness and gladness sounds just about perfect.
With the exception of the "The Fire Engine," whose chorus "It's big / It's red / It's metal with water" is now unfortunately lodged in my brain, the 42-minute album is mostly targeted at kids ages 4 through 8. You can hear some tracks from the album (and its predecessor Five Cent Piece) at Kaplan's Myspace page for his kids stuff or at the album's CDBaby page.
Perhaps Randy Kaplan won't be the next Dan Zanes -- his love of storytelling puts him more in the camp of Pete Seeger or Trout Fishing in America perhaps (not bad company there, either). But it would be nice to see a bit of Zanes' popularity rub off on Kaplan, because Loquat Rooftop's mixture of blues and folk-rock, laced with good humor and heart, will appeal to many kids and their adults. Definitely recommended.