Review: Billy Kelly - AGAIN!

The kids music scene is, as a general rule, a good-natured one.  Mopey musicians are few and far between and, frankly, get shunned a bit by the rest of the community.  Even if you're dealing with serious issues, be it in song or with the world at large, if you don't have a sense of humor -- broad or subtle -- you're not going to last long.

Amidst these humorous folk, only one person can hold the title Funniest Person in Kids Music.  Oh, sure, Jack Forman and all of the Recess Monkey fellows are like our own Laugh-In, Lunch Money's Molly Ledford deserves her own East Coast observational comeday version of Portlandia (Columbiandia?), and Doctor Noize's Cory Cullinan still writes the newsletters with most jokes.  And let's not forget the Media Division -- Sirius-XM's Mindy Thomas and's Jeff Bogle could co-captain our comedy softball team and we'd definitely hold our own against the musicians.  (You hear that, musicians?  We'll totally take you on in comedy softball.  Whatever that is.)

But let's take a moment to praise Pennsylvania's Billy Kelly, Funniest Person in Kids Music.  He's just released his fourth album, AGAIN!, and our favorite writer of odes to milk and boxes is back with odes to bonsai (the Japanese art form using miniature trees), dogs, sweaters, and butter.  Seriously, there's a song called "Ode to Butter," all harmonied and everything.  Kelly's humor doesn't derive from jokes, it's more absurdist in nature.  The title "Don't Tell Me That I Don't Know What I Know (When You Know That You Don't Know What I Know That I Know)" tells you just about everything you need to know about the song (believe it or not, the song gets even more absurd than the title).

On his last two full-lengths, Kelly went from slightly dark and very absurdist to rootsy and mosty earnest.  AGAIN! is an attempt to steer between those two extremes; I'd probably put the new album at one-thirds very absurdist / two-thirds mostly earnest, drawing upon a broader range of styles (Hi, Autotune! Hi, Talking Heads!).  Trying to pick a favorite song here is difficult -- is it one of the more uplifting songs of the year ("Jigsaw," describing how life is a puzzle that eventually comes into focus) or the very enthusiastic horn-aided "You Made Me a Sock Monkey"?  Or maybe it's Kelly's take on ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky," during which one soaring operatic voice sings, "Ohhhh, it's an opera!"

The 32-minute album is most appropriate for ages 5 through 9, but, really you just need to have a sense of humor.  AGAIN! is an album that had me smiling throughout much of it, and it's not just because it's funny.  It's because Kelly's joy in his song's characters comes through crystal clear.  That's what makes these songs so fun.  Highly recommended.