One thought I had upon spinning Here I Am!, the upcoming first album from Caspar Babypants, the alter ego of Chris Ballew from the Presidents of the United States of America, was that it shouldn't be this easy for someone who spent a lot of years making music for adults to turn his or her attention to the kids music genre and turn out an album that sounds so good.
And maybe it isn't easy.
But it is good.
Now, there's no such thing as an overnight success, and Caspar Babypants is no different. Ballew put together a compilation of kids songs for a Seattle-based organization way back in 2002 -- he's been doing this for awhile. But over that time he's expanded his repertoire and approach considerably. There are 22 tracks here, almost all of them with something special to recommend them, so I'll just touch on a handful. Ballew has done a good job finding traditional songs -- some, like "Three Blind Mice," are changed enough to keep them listenable after a couple spins ("Mice" gets a 60's London sounds makeover and additional lyrics in the spirit of the original.) Others, like "Billy Pringle," get rescued from obscurity and are given new life.
Amidst the traditional songs, kids and folk, Ballew also mixes in some originals. Among my favorites are "Monkey River," an old song of Ballew's that he's recorded more than a dozen times and, lyrics tweaked slightly, is a hypnotic little family song. "Heard A Bird" is a great pop tune for 3-year-olds that could've been written 100 years ago.
Production-wise, these simple songs get some small amount of ornamentation, but not much. There's a lot of keyboards, some guitar, the occasional tape loop, and a fair amount of "la la las" and "cheep cheeps." I'm a sucker for good "la la las." Ballew gets the occasional vocal assistance from Jen Wood and Fysah Thomas, but for the most part, it's just him and his instruments. If I have any complaint with the disk, it's that at 49 minutes, it feels just a little too long -- it might have been better to trim 6 or 7 tracks from the disk.
This album will hold the most appeal to kids ages 2 through 7. You can hear (and download) several tracks from the album at the Caspar Babypants website.
Now, I don't usually review albums ahead of their scheduled release date, and Here I Am! won't actually be available until February 14. But I think this album deserves an exception to that rule. It's just simple, organic kid-folk and pop. With his Caspar Babypants project, Chris Ballew might make a whole bunch of great CDs for the family -- this is the first of them. Highly recommended.