In this era when kids are supposedly growing up too fast, it isn't necessarily easy being Laurie Berkner. Even if they're not growing up any faster than their parents did, some kids born after her last release, 2002's Under a Shady Tree are already pretty much too old for Berkner.
So after a lengthy layoff reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's after Pulp Fiction, here comes Laurie Berkner with her fifth album for kids, Rocketship Run. In many respects, the album bears the marks of someone successful -- check out the lovely album packaging, for example -- lots of major-label releases albums aren't produced with this level of care. And there are many layers to the production; suffice it to say, there are several songs with strings and orchestration in the mix.
Unlike the packaging, which looks far better than that on Berkner's first couple albums, the production doesn't always serves her well. "Walk Along the River," which Berkner first recorded for a CD accompanying her We Are the Laurie Berkner Band DVD, gets a children's chorus added to it. It's a beautiful, tiny little pop song, and the chorus just sort drags it down. There were times throughout the disk -- not always, just sometimes -- when I wished it was just Laurie and Susie and Brian (or, now, Adam) without everything else.
And while I'm kvetching, I might as well say that the album's traveling concept doesn't work all that well. It's a bit too loose to have much of an effect, and it doesn't help that the "Going on a Hunt" song -- probably the weakest song on the album -- is played 5 different times (albeit in different musical forms).
But those downsides are outweighed by Berkner's strengths -- the overall songwriting and her voice, which are undiminished here. "Mouse In My Toolbox" has got a driving chorus -- "There's a paw on my saw / and an eye on my drill / And her little tail is wrapped around my pliers" -- that will stay lodged in your brain for some time. "Five Days Old" is an obvious and worthy homage to Woody Guthrie's "One Day Old." "Candy Cane Jane" is a sweet tune that with its name alliteration and rhymes is almost as catchy as "Victor Vito." Berkner continues to write songs that are targeted to kids without so much as a wink or a nod to the parents, but still without driving those parents away.
I've also long felt that Berkner has one of the great voices in kids music, and she sounds fabulous here, especially on songs like "All Around My Room" or her cover of "Fly Me to the Moon" where it's basically her voice and guitar. She very much needs to continue to explore those kid-friendly covers of classic songs.
Credit is also due to Berkner for more fully integrating longtime collaborators Susie Lampert and Adam Bernstein into the album, most notably by including 5 of their songs on the disk. If none of them are quite as catchy as, say, "Walk Along the River," they're all good, particularly Lampert's "Pigbasket" and Bernstein's "Jump and Fly." You do feel like crediting the album to "The Laurie Berkner Band" (rather than just Berkner herself) is the right choice.
Kids ages 3 through 6 will most appreciate the music here. You can listen to a couple of the new songs at the band's Myspace page.
If there isn't a song as enduring as "We Are the Dinosaurs" or "Victor Vito" on this album, that's probably too high of a bar to set. Rocketship Run is Laurie Berkner's most consistent and ambitious album to date and should attract a whole new set of fans to her music. Here's hoping it's not another six years before her next release. Definitely recommended.