There are not many artists who play jazz for kids, which is a sad thing. Sad not because Jazz Is The American Art Form and more kids should be aware of their country's musical heritage (even though that statement is true). Sad because jazz can be one of the most playful musical forms, and who plays better than kids?
On their second album, Coal Train Railroad Swings!, Nashville's Coal Train Railroad are every bit as playful as their pint-sized primary audience, adding several musical exclamation points to that in the title. From the get-go vocalist Katy Bowser throws herself into the preschool-focused lyrics with abandon. On the swingin' leadoff track "I'm Diggin' Me," Bowser sounds hopped up on pixie sticks as she fully inhabits the bouncing-off-the-walls-let's-play-superheroes! narrator. On big band-inspired "Dirt," I love the way Bowser throws off the word "dirt" at the end of every line, a statement of fact mixed with "what-are-ya-gonna-do?" insouciance. And I think you can probably guess the vocal approach she takes on the gypsy-jazz "I Hab a Code."
Which isn't to imply that the music is just jokey -- they come from a kid-centered focus. Bowser can turn in gorgeous vocals as well, as on "With A Box." And she's very ably backed up by her CTRR co-founder, producer and bassist Christopher Donohue, and the rest of the band. They provide great accompaniment, playful when necessary, solid through and through. The album is very preschool-focused lyrically, which may very well restrict the repeatability for folks when kids aren't around, though the album closer, the gorgeous "On Our Swings," is a worthy successor to the West Coast jazz sound Vince Guaraldi made famous to a broad audience via the Peanuts TV specials.
The album is more appropriate for kids ages 2 through 7, though that's a lyrical distinction -- musically, it works for everyone. You can hear the whole 27-minute album via the widget at the bottom of the page.
I liked Coal Train Railroad's debut, but I really like Coal Train Railroad Swings!. If it's not quite the all-ages classic that Medeski Martin & Wood's Let's Go Everywhere is, it gets close. It's musical, smart, and, most importantly, fun. Definitely recommended.
Disclosure: I received a copy of the album for possible review.