Whatever daydreams I had of becoming a rock star when I was a young turk have long since faded away. But I have wondered about recording some basic, traditional songs for my kids, if only for them to have a record of the songs we sang when they were kids.
And then there's Frances England, who has gone from recording the fine Fascinating Creatures as a DIY project for a preschool fundraiser almost five years ago to recording her third album Mind of My Own with kindie uber-producer Tor Hyams and getting Mates of State to sing with her on her Topspin-approved album. Those are pretty good rockstar daydreams.
One of the key charms of England's first two albums was the lo-fi intimacy England achieved that fit her folky sound. But if on those albums she was willing to make the recordings be akin to a secret shared between friends, on the new album she's a proud 4-year-old, sharing the news with all the world. The good news is that she's done that without sacrificing the charm of those first albums. She mixes both straight-ahead Americana pop-rockers, such as the title (and leadoff) track and "Jacques Cousteau" and laid-back folktunes such as "Red Balloon." England's songwriting is much stronger, with more hooks while finding more similes and getting to the heart of the song in as many words as it needs, and no more. The songs tend to be more about feelings and friendships than concrete events of childhood -- no songs about learning to brush one's teeth here.
Sonically, England's band and numerous guest performers (such as the Jellydots' Doug Snyder) perform admirably. Hyams gives the recording a warm, clear sound and brings out musical textures (the violin in "Do You Hear the Birds Singing?," the whistling and bike bells on "Bicycle") to keep the songs sounding fresh. And that song with Mates of State ("Place in Your Heart")? Every bit as awesome as you'd expect.
The album is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. You can listen to the entire 37-minute album using the widget below. (And, yeah, the artwork is still England's handiwork and is quite lovely to look at.)
In my review of Fascinating Creatures, I said that I didn't think the CD or Frances England would stay secret for long, and that has proven to be an accurate prediction. Even better, she's gotten better as she's become well-known. She still has a sound all her own, while making room for an increasing number of friends. With Mind of My Own, Frances England makes clear her family music career is no daydream -- it's here, and that's a good thing. Highly recommended.
Disclosure note: I was given a copy of the album for possible review.