CD Review: Frances England, “Mind of My Own”

Bright, catchy, and adorable, Frances England’s Mind of My Own is a slow pitch down the middle for grown-up fans of marshmallow-soft pop acts like Rabbit!, Lisa Loeb, Kaiser Cartel, and Mates of State (who pop in for a cameo on the sixth track, “Place in Your Heart”).

Having listened to more than my share of albums by female singers who wear vintage frocks, play quirky instruments, and wish they were Zooey Deschanel or Jenny Lewis, I hear warning sirens when I open a CD and see a woman holding a tiny keyboard and wearing thick glasses and a thrift-store outfit. And honestly, if you have a low tolerance for cute, Mind of My Own may test your limits — but then, you’ve probably had those limits trampled by plenty of kids’ acts, and this album steps around them more cleverly than most. It’s the family music equivalent of a curtsy and a smile: It might be a little much, but it’s too charming to resist.

Aided by kindie producer du jour Tor Hyams, England lays out a musical landscape that’s all sunshine and flowers; even when she’s grumpily protesting parental tyranny on the title track, she sounds more like she’s scrunching her nose than throwing a tantrum, and the names of the other songs — including “Ladybug,” “Cookies and Milk,” “Red Balloon,” “Do You Hear the Birds Singing?” and “Big Heart” — give you a pretty good idea of her overall perspective. And even if you don’t normally go for this sort of thing (or if, like me, you’re suffering from an overdose of the Zooey Effect), you have to admit it plays perfectly to England’s strengths — she’s good at conveying childlike innocence, and she’s got the perfect cotton candy voice for this stuff.

Like cotton candy, Mind of My Own may trigger sugar shock in large doses, but at a breezy 37 minutes and change, it doesn’t overstay its welcome; in fact, a couple of songs clock in under two minutes. Consider it a gateway drug for the Apple ad-approved bands on your iPod and heed England’s call for a living room dance in your underpants.