I wouldn't say that Ben Rudnick & Friends march to their own drummer -- their music for kids and families isn't too far out of the mainstream, particularly for those families whose tastes run to the folk/jamband side of the genre. But they seem more than willing to play songs that they want to play, and if they happen to interest the kids, so be it. Their latest album, the recently-released A Frog Named Sam, is almost 2 EPs smooshed together. The first EP, so to speak, the first 6 songs, features songs that would sound more familiar on a typical kids' disk -- the "frog out of water" story "A Frog Named Sam," "Race Car" (which does a good job of conveying the thrill of pre-NASCAR racing), and "I Need A Hand." The last song is recycled from a previous Rudnick album, but who cares, because it's the goofiest track you'll hear all month.
The second EP, the last 5 tracks, are where the band pretty much decides they're bored with the kids' stuff and decide instead to record a folk music album; if the kids like it, so much the better. Now, anyone who responds positively to the phrase "Dan Zanes" will recognize the tracks -- "Erie Canal," "Old Joe Clark," even the original "The Santa Fe," written by band member John Zevos. They don't take many chances with the arrangement -- no Father Goose on "Old Joe Clark," for example -- but Rudnick and Friends have the slickest folk sound in the kids music field, so it's certainly a pleasant-enough spin. Kids ages 3 through 7 will enjoy the album most of all; you can listen to samples of the 33-minute album at its CDBaby page. If you're looking for shiny, poppy family music, Ben Rudnick probably isn't your man, but for a more earthy and rootsy take on music new and old, I think you'll like A Frog Named Sam. Recommended.