It's not like we weren't prepared for the possibility of a Lisa Loeb kids' music album -- after all, she (relatively) famously joined with her old Brown University singing partner Elizabeth Mitchell to produce Catch the Moon in 2004. But it certainly took Loeb a while to get around to a kids' album of her own, and it's not quite what we might have expected.
Loeb released her new album, Camp Lisa, last week, and it's a considerably different album from Catch the Moon. Whereas that album was definitely targeted to the preschool set (it was packaged with a small picture book, after all), Loeb's album is a concept album that celebrates summer camps.
I mean this in the best possible way -- Camp Lisa is an winningly dorky album. By that I mean it expertly blends earnest and original "camp life" songs with earnestly sung renditions of traditional songs and chants. I mean, the album leads off with the cheeky "Ready For The Summer," the theme from the movie Meatballs. While perhaps there's a small wink and nudge in Loeb's and Letters to Cleo's Kay Hanley's vocals, the group of kids singing along do so with gusto and without any irony. It's summer camp -- the more you through yourself into it, the more fun you'll have.
The original tunes here, including "Best Friend," "When It Rains," and "It's Not Goodbye" (which features a nifty segue into the camp chestnut "Make New Friends"), have an appealingly laid-back, '70s AM-radio vibe whose sounds will appeal to the parents of kids going off to summer camp and whose lyrics, should the kids settle down long enough to pay attention, might actually frame their camp experience. (The whole album is well-sequenced, working from heading off to camp to leaving it.) The traditionals -- "Woodchuck," "Peanut Butter & Jelly," and "Father Abraham" -- wouldn't be strong enough to merit a whole album on their own, but integrated into the other songs, they provide a nice contrast.
Loeb pulls in a whole bunch of help here, from Jill Sobule (on the dreamy "Cookie Jar Song") to Veruca Salt's Nina Gordon on the ukulele-accompanied "Linger." Kudos, too, to Loeb for a) getting Steve Martin to appear on her album, and b) asking him just to play banjo (which he does well on "The Disappointing Pancake").
Given that these are songs about going to camp, I'll put the age range here at ages 7 and up, though certainly a lot of the traditional tunes will appeal to the younger set, too. For the moment, the 39-minute album is only available at Barnes & Noble -- you can hear samples and buy the album here. (I should also note that in conjunction with the album's release, Loeb has also launched the Camp Lisa Foundation, a non-profit that will raise funds to help send underprivileged kids to summer camp.)
Camp Lisa does a very good job of evoking -- both prosaically as well as emotionally -- the summer camp experience, and I think that any family who's gone through that (or is going to go through that) will find this a very worthy album. But even if you're doing the summer camp thing, there are enough good songs here that you'll probably linger a little while with it. Recommended.