It's taken me a little time to fully appreciate Randy Kaplan for what he is -- one of family music's most inventive storytellers. There were times at which I thought songs like "Shampoo Me" were, though amusing, a little silly and not quite the Dan Zanes-like music I thought Kaplan could -- or maybe should -- make.
I was wrong. It's songs like "Shampoo Me" that are what make Randy, Randy. The fanciful stories sprung from the conjoined heads of Shel Silverstein and Bob Dylan are Kaplan's calling card, and he's very, very good at them. His third album for kids, The Kids Are All Id, is to my mind, his most story-intensive collection yet. From the get-go, Kaplan tells inventive stories in folk songs about characters you haven't heard from -- "The Hebrew-Speaking Bear," an Elizabeth II-aping queen bee on "Little Bee," or his monkey Kqxhc, who makes a return appearance on "Is She a Girl or Is She a Monkey." Kaplan doesn't dig too deep into lessons -- his cover of "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" and his original "My Little Laugh," about laughing at situations that might otherwise make him cry are about as deep as he gets.
The album is titled The Kids Are All Id on purpose -- there are lots of characters here who are somewhat exasperating -- Joe, of course, the title character in the folk-punk "The Kid Is All Id," Kaplan's younger self in his rreworking of "Don't You Leave Me Here," or the toddler who responds to every joke setup line with "This Guy." The first ten or so songs are, if not frenzied, at least active. As a result, the trio of Ezra Jack Keats-based songs about two-thirds of the way through the disk come like a soothing balm. "I Like Cacti" is a sweet, sweet song -- I can't get over the line "What attracts us / About a cactus?" Indeed, while I've been focusing on the words here, Kaplan writes some great musical bits (there's a part in "The Kid Is All Id," in which the adult supervisor breaks free with a plaintive, soaring chorus) and he and his producer Mike West give the album a natural, expansive sound.
The 54-minute album will be most appreciated by kids aged 4 through 8. You can listen to 3 of the tracks at Randy's Myspace page. The Kids Are All Id is Randy Kaplan's best album yet, and shows Kaplan's greatest strength -- his ability to listen to and interact with the kids who are his audience and to turn that into stories in song. Instead of suggesting that Randy could be the next Dan Zanes, perhaps I should've suggested Bill Harley. Definitely recommended.