One of the weird upshots of the rewiring of the relationship between musicians and cultural curators is that they're often friends. Sure, they could have always been friends in the real-world sense of things, but with the advent of Facebook, the number of "friends" available has increased exponentially. The cultural curator breed of "critic" is dying rapidly while "blogger" (for lack of a better term) has displaced the critic at the top of the music food tree, and while I'm not sure that critics were ever more "objective" than bloggers, my perception is that bloggers are more advocates for music they favor. This unsurprisingly leads to more friendship-based exchanges online. And, for someone raised in the world of the "critic" and who got into this music-writing business a decade ago in part because there seemed to be few critical distinctions when it came to kids music, it definitely feels different.
Which brings us to Spicy Kid, the fourth album from South Carolina band Lunch Money. The band is led by singer and guitarist Molly Ledford, who writes indie-rock melodies and arrangements circia 1992 in a voice that would be called wry if she didn't find it so hard to hide her general amusement and wonder. Ledford and the band are billing this as their album about parenthood, and that's what prompted my discursion above.
You see, Molly is a "friend" of mine on Facebook (along with 300 other kids'-music-related people). If you're not a friend of her, you might hear a song like "S.P.E.L.L.," about the well-known parental tactic to hide information and think she's giving her kids too much credit ("When you s-p-e-l-l in front of me / You're calling attention to the words / You're putting me on alert / It's either bad news or dessert"). But Ledford has posted too many status updates indicating that her kids are sharp cookies (and spicy kids) that unless she's the James Frey of autobiographical kindie rock, these are very much inspired by real life. And that true life dimension lends the songs additional resonance above and beyond the plain text of the lyrics.
What I find remarkable about the album is that she hits the topics of parenthood in a way that honors both the parents' and kids' perspectives. The album's title track celebrates spicy kids without denying the feeling of frustration such kids can produce in their parents. "Awake" is nominally about a child sneaking down the hallway to see if her mom is awake, but it also works from the perspective of a parent sneaking down the hallway to see if his son's awake. And while there are songs that are as strong expressions of a parent's love for a child as you'll hear this year (see: "Translator," which is pitch-perfect), it's the empathy of both perspectives that helps it avoid mawkishness. It's like the album is from everybody's favorite Aunt Molly. Which isn't to diminish the role of her band (which now officially number four in total as the former trio has added Russell Ramirez on trombone), who give Molly's words room to breathe, except when they need to rock out. Just that it's Aunt Molly's house.
The album will be most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. You can hear the album on the band's music page. Also, as usual, I love the design and layout of the band's album packaging, courtesy of Ledford's husband and bandmate, Jay Barry.
If Spicy Kid works in a slightly minor key, less a celebration of parenthood than a diary, that doesn't mean it's less joyful than any of its predecessors, and fans (or fans-to-be) of those predecessors should be every bit as enamored of this new album. As for me, I'll hope that Ledford one day writes the book (non-fiction or otherwise) that chronicles life as a parent (or a kid) that's so obviously somewhere inside her waiting to be written. Consider it advice from a friend, Molly. Highly recommended.
Note: I received a copy of this album for possible review.