Review: The Family Garden - Billy Kelly

TheFamilyGarden.jpgJust in time for Earth Day, Billy Kelly releases The Family Garden, an album of gardening-related songs designed to help kids better understand the impact they have on their planet...

Just kidding. I mean, about part of it. It's the other part that, uh, isn't quite so true. But Kelly, whose line in song between truth and un-truth has never been very clear, probably wouldn't want me to tell you which is which.

On this, his third album, Kelly eschews some of the production wizardry and elaborate wordplay of his first two disks for a rootsier sound. It's a deliberate choice sonically -- Kelly specifically mentions recording the songs live with his band, the Blahblahblahs. On songs like the title track, or "That Old American Flag," or his cover of "Coney Island Washboard," the roots/country sound matches up well with the songs' earnest nature. Those songs (as well as "We Could Be Pen Pals," his duet with Lunch Money's Molly Ledford) are songs you might find in a gigantic American songbook.

Kelly's always had an earnest streak in his songwriting, but he hasn't forgotten the more surreal components, either. "It's Close Enough" continues Kelly's streak of writing songs about the songs he's writing about. "I'm Thinking of an Animal" is as close as he'll get to writing a standard "name the animal" song (which is to say, only about 80% of the way there). "The Invention of the Straw" doesn't reach the heights of "The Legend of Johnny Box" from Is This Some Kind of Joke?, but "Why Is the Moon Following Me?" is way better than Harold and the Purple Crayon.

The album is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 8. You can listen to clips from the 37-minute album here. If I had to recommend just one Billy Kelly album for someone's collection, I'd probably start with Is This Some Kind of Joke? -- I think his intricate wordplay and savviness fills an underserved niche for older-kids' kids music. But The Family Garden is a neat expansion of his sound. To some extent, this is a kindler, gentler Kelly. Whether or not we wanted a kindler, gentler Kelly you'll have to decide, but he's not bad to have around. That's all true, I promise. Definitely recommended.