Review Two-Fer: Mr. Richard / Roy Handy and the Moonshot

BackyardAstronauts.jpgFolks like Justin Roberts or Recess Monkey aren't the only kids' musicians who can write a musical earworm that will get stuck in your kid's (and, by extension, your) head. Here are a couple albums by lesser-known artists with their own fair share of hooks.

Florida's Mr. Richard (Richard Peeples) has released his fourth album, Backyard Astronauts, which continues his lo-fi indie-pop work often filtered through the perspective of the wisecracking older brother (Sample lyric from "5-Second Rule": "A pizza slice landed right-side up / If I can just grab it fast enough / I count out loud one two three four / And hope it doesn't taste like floor"). And while he'll write a song making fun of not using "The Good Towels," he's occasionally sweet (on "Birthday Wish," the narrator wishes it was his "birthday everyday," in part so his best friend won't have to move). Peeples' music will remind listeners of R.E.M. and Jonathan Richman, which are not bad musicians to echo. (I also particularly enjoy the bass work on tracks like "Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl").

You can sample the music from the 31-minute album here (and download "Garbage Man" here). The album is most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9. It's his best album yet.

HolyCow.jpgIf Mr. Richard takes a jangly-pop approach from the '70s to his songs, on his second album Holy Cow!, Gerry Stanek AKA Roy Handy and the Moonshot draws from the rawk of the '60s, with a lot of British Invason influence. Like Mr. Richard, however, Stanek has a bit of a sarcastic streak that will enamor him to the young wiseacres (and perhaps their wiseacre parents). The title track is the most bracing opening song of the year (and my favorite on the album), but if you're looking for a gentler, almost wistful tune, I'd suggest "Tilt-A-Whirl," about going to the local fair and going on the titular ride.

You can listen to "Holy Cow" and the '50s harmonizing on "When It's Time to Go" here (or listen to samples at Amazon or iTunes). The 16-minute EP is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7 and shows continued growth from his enjoyable debut I'm Gonna Be (Your Best Friend).

Neither album is without flaws -- Backyard Astronauts could use a little more polish and lyrical tightening, while the songs Holy Cow! could probably be fleshed out just a little more (he's not the Ramones). But those are concerns more for the middle-aged parent who might have to listen to the disks repeatedly at the request of their kids who'll want to play them a lot. If anything, these albums prove that if you can't find kids music with a bunch of catchy melodies, you're not looking hard at all. Recommended.