On her first album Play!, Heidi Swedberg gave us a celebration of the ukulele, playing (for the most part) simple songs designed to get uke-enthusiasts to play along. The songs and arrangements were playful to be sure, and definitely more than somebody strumming the ukulele, but its ambitions were modest.
Move forward three years, and her follow up My Cup of Tea reveals Swedberg's true ambition -- to be the vaudevillian Dan Zanes of family music. Yes, that cover photo, with family and friends playing roles of Civil War reenactors, Frida Kahlo, and barechested strongmen (to name a few), is a nice visual complement to the album's contents. From the Jazz Age zip of the original title track which leads off the disk with a good dozen instruments and nearly as many voices to Swedberg's vocally dramatic take on Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat," if you're looking for an album with a single, distinctive groove, please move along.
The songs here are varied, and not in the "one song reggae, one song rap" approach that kids albums sometimes take. After that Edward Lear song, the traditional folk tune "Little Birdie," perhaps the simplest song on the album, segues into the uptempo Panamanian tune "Al Tambor." And while on a lot of albums, "Duermete," a Spanish lullaby, might be the album closer, Swedberg's duet with Cesar Bauvallet subtly turns into a Cuban-tinged raveup. It's in these wild leaps from song to song that Swedberg and her collaborators -- primarily Daniel Ward and John Bartlit -- shine instrumentally.
Of course, given the wide-ranging musical interests, not everything succeeds -- there is no love lost between me and "Boogie Man," which takes a cheesy boogie theme and cranks it up to the point of clicking fast-forward. And while I liked her more dramatic takes on "The Owl and the Pussycat" and "Istanbul" (made famous once more by distant cousin John Linnell in They Might Be Giants), some listeners might be put off by that musical playacting. YMMV.
In true Zanes-ian fashion, there is very little here that could be pegged at a specific (non-adult) age range, so I'll call it ages 3 and up. You can hear a sampler here.
You can appreciate My Cup of Tea as a straight-up album of music from folk and world traditions played with verve and imaginatively arranged. But I think you'll get more out of it if you think of it as a variety show without the banter, skits, and sponsor thanks. In fact, somebody please get Ms. Swedberg a gig hosting her own variety show, pronto. Signed, the Universe. Definitely recommended.
Note: I was given a copy of the album for possible review.