Review Two-Fer: Papa Crow / Chuck Cheesman

ThingsThatRoar.jpgI don't think that Jeff Krebs and Chuck Cheesman are the same person. Having said that, I've never seen the two bearded guitarists in the same place at the same time, and some of the similarities on their new albums leave the question open in my eyes.

The kindie world is very focused on rock and pop and sometimes other genres at the moment, which leaves the folk music that for many years was the backbone of the genre somehat pushed to the background. As a result, these two albums stand out more than they might have ten or twenty years ago.

DancingWithNoShoesOn.jpgI've long been a fan of Chuck Cheesman, a former Old Town School of Folk Music Wiggleworms teacher who now lives in the pines of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. His first album for families, A Family Handbook, was a solid record of mostly traditional tunes, and his just-released second kids' album Dancing With No Shoes On is just as solid.

It's an occasionally goofy, occasionally heartfelt, always warm collection of songs. It's folk music that draws no small amount of inspiration from Woody Guthrie (see "Seafood Song" or "A Big Dog Ate My Homework," perhaps). Given his longtime experience playing for kids, he's got a good sense of what kids will respond to, songs like the banjo-aided "Chocolate-Covered Brussels Sprouts" and the bluesy (natch) "Milkstache Blues." It's a mostly upbeat, sunny approach -- something to play in the summer, or maybe a warm Northern Arizona fall. The 35-minute album (which includes 4 songs heard on his first album) is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7; you can hear song clips here.

If Dancing with No Shoes On is a sunny, almost summer-y folk album, Things That Roar, Jeff Krebs' (aka Papa Crow) first album for families is a little more hushed, a Michigan winter to Cheesman's Arizona mountain summer.

Nothing is being reinvented here (OK, maybe the beat loops on "High Up on a String" are a little new), but the 14 originals are put together with care. It's not just a guy and a guitar -- it features (among other things) accordion, banjo, sleigh bells, and a couple nice duet turns by Kerry Yost. Krebs has an appealing voice himself and shows off some nifty guitar and ukulele work on songs like "Polar Bear in a Snowstorm" and "Ukulele." And if "Chicken Lips" doesn't become a minor radio hit, I'll be sorely disappointed. Kids ages 2 through 7 will most appreciate the songs here. You can hear some songs from the 32-minute album at the Papa Crow ReverbNation page.

When I mentioned this as one of my favorite new albums of the fall, I deliberately included Crow along with Dan Zanes, one of his inspirations. Things That Roar is a gentle breath of fresh air, and maybe my desire for cooler weather caused me to prefer that to Dancing With No Shoes On, but they're both fine albums. Chuck Cheesman is one of those artists who, if they were in a larger market, would be much better known; Dancing With No Shoes On is just an excellent collection of new and folk music. And while Papa Crow's got a ways to go to reach the heights of Zanes or Elizabeth Mitchell or Frances England, artists who've inspired him, but Things That Roar is a small delight and fans of those artists will probably find in Papa Crow someone they want to hear more of as well. Both albums are definitely recommended.