The music of the South Carolina band Lunch Money may be demure at times, but it's never been shy about wearing its anthropomorphized heart on its anthropomorphized sleeve. Which is one of its strengths -- a trio of thirty-somethings singing why they love their library might fail in the hands of lesser artists, but Lunch Money's giddy enthusiasm equal to that of kids thirty years younger makes the song work.
Original Friend is every bit as "open book" as its predecessor Dizzy, but this time around songwriter Molly Ledford's subject is friendship. Friendship temporarily lost and then regained (the strings-assisted 1-minute opener "Friends Again"); friends who are awesome (the title track, and a prototypical Lunch Money indie-pop song); friends willing to imagine with you (the pop-by-way-of-circus-music "Getaway Car"). This album isn't quite as extroverted as Dizzy was, but it features Ledford's strongest batch of songs yet. And while the dedication to Jennifer Jean Day, "who had the original friend donut" (and who Ledford is presumably singing about in the title track "What’s up today, Jennifer? / You say you’re writing a song? / Maybe I’ll try my hand at that for my whole life long.") might hint at some sadness, it's really a rather joyful record. Even songs about the possible interruption of friendship (the rocking "Please Don't Move (to Another Time Zone)") beat with a heart and with good humor.
That joy is due in no small measure to the large number of musicians who share the record with Molly, J.P., and Jay. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo turns in a great rap on "Welcome To My Dollhouse," Frances England offers her voice to "You and Me and a Bottle of Bubbles," and Dean Jones pitches in on "Getaway Car." And that's in addition to all the strings and horns, not to mention keys from producer Tor Hyams, who doesn't really tweak the Lunch Money sound, but just shares it with a few more folks.
The 34-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9. You can listen to samples here or pick up the mp3 of the title track here. Also: the illustrations by Brandon Reese -- the whole design really -- along with the off-kilter album credits (e.g., on "Picking Teams" -- "harmonica, forlorn yet upbeat - J.P. Stephens") make this an album that is so totally worth picking up in its physical format.
Because, of course, you do need to get Original Friend. Lunch Money offer up a tasty musical donut filled with lyrics that capture friendship, and, by extension, childhood in a way that is relatable to kids and recognizable to adults. Can I wear my heart on my sleeve? I love this band. Highly recommended.