Review: Shoe Baby, Flyaway Katie, Penguin - Tom Gray (Gomez)

ShoeBaby.jpgI'd heard about the music that guitarist Tom Gray of the British band Gomez had done for a couple of kids' puppet shows for at least a couple years now. So was it merely an amazing coincidence or was it fate that I had an e-mail ready to go to Katherine Morton and Polly Dunbar, proprietors of Long Nose Puppets and creators of said puppet shows, when I received the press release saying that that very music would finally be made available on iTunes?

The answer is probably irrelevant, but does provide some background as to why I was particularly eager to give the music a spin. Gray's first score was for the 2006 puppet show Shoe Baby, the first Long Nose Puppets production and an adaptation of a children's book written and illustrated by Dunbar's mother Joyce Dunbar. (It's about a baby who disappears in a shoe and has lots of interesting travels.) Compared to the two later productions, the gentle pop-folk music for Shoe Baby is pretty simple in terms of orchestrations, but it might almost be the album that least needs the visual of the puppet shows (or the books) to understand the music.

FlyawayKatie.jpgThe second show, Flyaway Katie, was based on Polly Dunbar's book, which (the book -- and presumably the puppet show) is about a girl who dresses up very colorfully and becomes a bird (briefly). As you might expect, there are lots of songs about colors -- a moody one about gray, a mellow one about green, and bright one about the yellow sun. It's more orchestrated than the first show -- literally, in some cases, as strings make an appearance on several songs, and Gray even duets with another singer on one of the tracks. (My favorite track: "The Red Bus".")There's also a Mark Mothersbaugh-like instrumental "The Mice Theme" that is very pretty though makes less sense without the context of the puppet show itself.

Penguin.jpgThe newest show is Penguin, which debuted just last year. It's also based on one of Polly Dunbar's books about a silent penguin. Without visuals for the puppet show, it is easest perhaps to follow along to the narrative arc in this album. (There's another fun instrumental in "A Lunar Tune," all spacy and with bleeps and bloops.) That may make things confusing if you're listening without benefit of the book (who exactly the singer singing to in the funky second-line-like "Say Anything" is not clear unless you know it's boy singing to his silent penguin). But I think the songs here are the most engaging and most beautiful of the three albums -- "Penguin's Song" could easily rest outside the kids music world.

The songs here are most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 7. The songs are available on iTunes (link to all 3 albums here). You may find the albums a bit pricy -- about $27 for barely more than an hour of music -- so you'll probably want to try a few samples and start off with one of the albums (one of the latter two) before taking the plunge for all three.

While the albums don't quite match the (too high) expectations I had for them, Tom Gomez's scores for Shoe Baby, Flyaway Katie, and Penguin feature simple, gentle and occasionally beautiful songs your family would enjoy listening to even if they've never seen the shows that accompany this music. They make me want to rewrite that e-mail to Long Nose to say, "When's your US tour starting?," and that's praise for the music in and of itself. Recommended, especially Flyaway Katie and Penguin.

Disclosure: I received electronic copies of the albums for possible review.