Southern California-based singer-songwriter Tom Freund released Hug Trees in late 2007, and I'm sort of surprised it's gone under everyone's radar (including mine) until just recently. In many ways, the album, inspired by his preschool-aged daughter, is a typical "kids' music" CD -- it's got a "freeze dance" song, there's a rendition of "The Cat Came Back," there's a song about baking a cake.
But there's a relaxed and playful attitude to the whole affair that makes it more compelling than you would think from the description above. Take "Freezedance," for example, which has a very funky '70s sound (Freund mentions James Brown as a particular inspiration for the track) and doesn't just involve Freund occasionally yelling "Freeze!" but also has him encouraging listeners to emulate animals and throwing out musical adlibs. "The Cat Came Back" is an admittedly hard song to screw up, but I quite liked his mellow approach on the song. "Party in the Yard" was actually written by Brett Dennen (who appears on this and one other track), and it's a soulful, funky tune (think Jack Johnson) about playing outside. (If you get a bit of a Ben Harper vibe, too, well, Freund's played with him quite a bit.)
Freund's roots-rock vibe on some tracks ("Hug Trees" or "Bump Bump Bump") will remind listeners of Brady Rymer, while on the closing "Go To Sleep (Fais Do-Do)" or "Seashells" (the former with Abra Moore, the latter with Victoria Williams), Freund sounds a little bit like a West Coast Elizabeth Mitchell. (And on "I Walk the Dog," Freund just sounds like a tired guy who knows how important it is to walk your dog, if you've got one.)
The biggest strength of Hug Trees is its overall vibe, which turns what might have been a collection of typical kids songs into a fun little disk, something beyond ordinary. Fans of Brady Rymer or Elizabeth Mitchell I think will respond well to the musicianship and playfulness from Freund and friends here. Recommended.