Steve Denyes and Brendan Kremer -- AKA Hullabaloo --have spent more than a decade cultivating their audience in the greater San Diego area with their "free-range, organic kid-folk." That's their PR description, but it's a pretty accurate one from where I sit, and one they've not strayed far from during their career.
They are not the first band that came to my mind when the phrase "spoken word" pops up, and I suspect even Denyes was unsure of the reaction to Shy Kid Blues, the band's tenth and latest album. The album intersperses new Hullabaloo tunes between spoken word scenes -- essentially a kid-friendly origin story of the band itself, how Steve and Brendan met, developed a love for music, and started a band together. It's also the story of how a shy kid -- Denyes (and Kremer, too) -- found the inner strength to conquer shyness and make music onstage.
Now, I am typically not a big fan of spoken word interludes, or musical stories (on record), so I was surprised to discover just how fun this album is. The dialogue and scenes feel natural, not at all stilted, and the moral -- Kid Conquers Shyness -- is delivered subtly, almost as an afterthought, and with a sense of how things will be different but not totally so. (Turns out, Denyes is still pretty shy.) I think the music also benefits from the structure which breaks up the tracks (dialogue is played between each song) and gives Denyes an anchor from which he can write songs in different styles and on different topics. I've sometimes wished for more variety in the sound of a Hullabaloo album, and this album provides that. And the final song (save for the reprise), "Like a Bird Must Feel," is genuinely moving in the context of the album.
The 41-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9 (a slightly older age group than many of the band's albums). You can hear clips of certain songs here.
In an interview with the site, Denyes noted that he'd previously written and performed 2 one-man musical plays. Based on the results in the kids' arena with Shy Kid Blues, I think he should start planning kindie play #2. It's my favorite Hullabaloo record. Definitely recommended.