Ralph Covert has few peers when it comes to kids' music songwriting -- Justin Roberts?, the guys from Recess Monkey?, Molly Ledford from Lunch Money? -- the list is short. Over the course of six original albums in his guise as Ralph's World, the Chicago-based Covert created a body of work that holds up against any other kids' musician, work that helped convince Disney to sign Covert to its label.
The Rhyming Circus, Covert's first collection of new material since signing to Disney, does not give any indication that his skill in putting together of kid-friendly pop tunes has waned at all. The leadoff title track is filled with a nifty little series of rhymes, of course ("Bats in hats wearing suits and spats / And cats on mats what do you think of that / Fats the rat juggling some gnats / They’re all stars in the Rhyming Circus"). "Gotta Be Good" is a sunny pop-rocker, "Edward the Tap-Dancing Elephant" has a 21st century Tin Pan Alley feel, and so on down the line. Beatles references are woven throughout ("Happy Not My Birthday," "Abby's Alphabet Soup" and the funky "Do The Math" among them, the latter closing with an emphatic final "Day in the Life" piano chord). Oddly enough, "Folsom Daycare Blues," with Covert reworking the Johnny Cash classic, is the weakest track on the album; it's sort of a cheap joke that the kids won't get at all.
For those of you more familiar with the Ralph's World oeuvre, I'd say The Rhyming Circus more in the Peggy's Pie Parlor camp than his two subsequent albums, which had a more rocking feel. I consider Green Gorilla, Monster & Me to be in the vicinity of the top 10 kids' albums of the past 10 years, so if I'm not as enthusiastic about this new album, it's not a reflection of the album's quality as much as it is a reflection of my personal musical taste. (And I know that there's a strong segment of Ralph's fanbase that adores Peggy's Pie Parlor, which I like, just not as much as the two albums that followed.)
One other comment, this directed at Disney. I know they know what they're doing, but there are few kids' artists that create as fanciful a story through song as Covert (especially on this album -- just listen to "Rodeo Peg" or "King of the Alphabet" for two examples). Why, then, do the videos for the new album (the title track is available as a bonus on the disk, and the first two can be seen here) just feature Covert in a live setting with bouncing kids? It's mostly forgettable, or at least undistinguishable from countless other kids' videos, albeit with higher production values. Disney is missing a major opportunity to create something memorable by not recruiting former Covert cover illustrator Giselle Potter to design a few videos.
The CD will be of most interest to kids ages 4 through 8. You can hear samples across the internet, while Covert's Myspace page has a few tracks available for streaming.
The Rhyming Circus is another collection of top-quality (in every way) kids' pop-rock. Ralph's World fans will not be disappointed with the release, and those who aren't fans already should certainly give Covert a shot in the stereo. Recommended.