In every reviewer's career, there are the artists you find, follow devotedly, and wonder why the rest of the world isn't quite as enamored as you.
Exhibit A, for me, I think, is Seattle's Johnny Bregar. I thought his first three albums Stomp Yer Feet!, Hootenanny, and Dragonfly were on par with any recent three-album set from just about any artist you'd care to name. While they were received positively, with radio airplay and cuts on a couple of Putumayo Kids albums, he hadn't received the attention that his peers (Justin Roberts, TMBG, Elizabeth Mitchell, a few others) had.
And then, 3 1/2 years of silence. Much of that silence is because Bregar has been struggling to find his singing voice (literally). And while that condition isn't fully resolved, Bregar has finally released his fourth album for kids, My Neighborhood. For fans of the first three albums, it is good to hear Bregar's voice once more.
While I don't think Bregar's included too many more guest artists than on Dragonfly, he brought enough guests to his Bainbridge Island studio to make his rootsy Americana with a hint of bluegrass seem like a small party. There's a mellow, soulful vibe to the album's best tracks, even a bit of wistfulness at points. The title track recounts a stroll through the narrator's neighborhood, evocative of Mr. Rogers if he'd had a chance to listen to some Jack Johnson. The next track "Weekend" evokes the best of the Counting Crows sonically in service of praising the fun of Saturdays and Sundays.
While Bregar still invites some younger kids to sing along (as on the uber-confident rocker "Yes I Can"), he's mostly moved on from the preschool songs he originally made his name on. (I will admit to being tickled pink that Bregar, who I once called "the next Raffi," includes a simple, sing-along version of the Raffi classic, "You'll Sing a Song".) Bregar's playing (and that of his guests) is unfussy, but there are some nifty instrumental turns. I will admit to skipping forward past "Pancho," but the vast majority of the songs stand up to repeated spins.
The songs here are most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9. You can listen to selected tracks by going here and clicking on the "Listen Now" button.
I've laid it out as best I can without coming over to your house or minivan and commandeering the CD player or iPod and making you and your kids listen. My Neighborhood is what we expect good kids music to be these days -- musically rich, thematically diverse, and (for older kids, anyway) lyrically sophisticated. Please please please try it. Highly recommended.