Review: Simpatico - Renee and Friends

 Renee and Friends Simpatico album cover

Renee and Friends Simpatico album cover

When I think of kids' music duets, the very first duo that comes to my mind is Renee Stahl and Jeremy Toback, AKA Renee and Jeremy.

In fact, they're about the first five duos that come to mind.  Sure, there are other duos -- The Okee Dokee Brothers, Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke, Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly, to name three I particularly like -- but the artistic talent they share with the world is not primarily derived from their vocal harmonies the way R&J's is.  Their three full-length albums do such a wonderful job highlighting their blended voices that, well, like I said, no other duo in kids' music comes close for me.

What should I make, then, of Stahl's new effort, Simpatico? She recorded this album with fellow Los Angeles singer/songwriter Rich Jacques and a bunch of musicians and friends -- and friends who are musicians -- and dubbed the group Renee and Friends.  It's not a completely new approach from the R&J work -- this is not an album of death metal polka -- but it branches out in some different directions.  At its most puzzling, those directions include a solo spoken-word piece by Colin Hay (best known Stateside for being the lead singer of Men at Work) and the chestnut "Happiness" from the musical You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, sung solo by actress/performer (and friend of Stahl's dating back to high school) Molly Shannon.  Neither are bad, just feel out of place on an album that at its best uses Stahl's warm voice as both lead voice and harmonic partner.

Those stronger tracks include the opening track "Gather Round," with Lisa Loeb, an ode to gathering over food with friends and family, which should be on any future Thanksgiving kindie playlist, however rare that occurrence.  Her duet with Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket on  "You Were Meant to Be" is particularly gorgeous.  For me, while her duets with Maya Rudolph (on Prince's "Starfish and Coffee") and Caspar Babypants and Rolfe Kent (on "I Am Not Afraid") are enjoyable, the heart of the album is really the last four tracks.  That's where the feeling of enveloping love and support that's animated the Renee and Jeremy work is paired with vocal arrangements that best showcase Stahl's voice as lead and harmony. 

The 35-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 2 through 7, though with the exception of two or maybe three tracks, this is easily an album you could play for yourself with no kids around at all.  You can hear 3 of the album's tracks here.

I've considered Renee and Jeremy's albums to be the sonic equivalent of comfort food warming the heart served by two very talented chefs.  If Simpatico doesn't reach quite those heights, perhaps that's just because I've become so accustomed to those two particular cooks.  But this album features enough dishes worth enjoying with the family to be worth trying something new.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I received a copy of this album for possible review.