CD Review: The Laurie Berkner Band, “Rocketship Run”

The Laurie Berkner Band – Rocketship Run (2008, Two Tomatoes)
purchase this album (Amazon)

A year or two ago, Jack’s Big Music Show was my daughter’s favorite thing to watch on TV. It was one of the first shows she really got into, actually, and I liked it too — it offers plenty of bright colors, with nifty-looking puppets designed by Sesame Street vets, positive messages, and a parade of cool guest stars (my personal favorite: Andrew Bird as the dulcimer-fixing Dr. Stringz). Due in part to the typically transitive tastes of children, and in part to the show’s abnormally long, Sopranos-style hiatuses, Sophie moved on from Jack’s fairly quickly; ordinarily, I might have encouraged her to keep on watching it, not least because I’d already invested in at least one Jack’s DVD — but in this case, I was actually sort of happy to watch her enthusiasm fade. Why? Because each episode features a pair of music videos, and many of them feature Laurie “Oh God, Not Her Again” Berkner.

Berkner is an extremely popular kids’ musician who has been selling oodles of albums for over a decade — at this point, she’s pretty much her own media empire; sort of the Oprah of kids’ music, with albums, DVDs, and even a book under her belt. Personally, I find her unsettling — I don’t trust anyone whose facial muscles are strong enough to support all that smiling, and she has the shake-you-by-the-lapels singing style of a Junior Miss pageant contestant — but kids and parents loooooooooooooove Laurie Berkner, to the extent that Rocketship Run, her first album in six years, is a very big deal. It’s also pretty good, actually, which, perversely, only makes me hate her more.

Rocketship Run represented a first for me: Instead of ripping it to my hard drive and listening to it with my daughter, I waited until she and my wife were going on a car ride together, and handed it off for them to share on their trip. This accomplished two things: First, it saved me from at least one round of listening to the album, and second, it would give me an objective pair of opinions I could trust before I filtered Rocketship through my grumpy dad’s-ear perspective. It was a big hit, of course — my wife actually said the words “I love it,” and my daughter immediately insisted on having the album on her iPod. All 24 freakin’ tracks of it.

Your kids will love it too. Heck, you may even love it. Although I’ve read some online grumbling about the newly democratic songwriting process in the Laurie Berkner band — Berkner didn’t write all the songs herself this time out, which is apparently controversial — I didn’t notice any real drop in quality between the different band members’ contributions, and good God, this stuff is undeniably catchy. It makes me want to cut out my frontal lobe with a butter knife, but I can’t get the title track out of my head, and songs like “Candy Cane Jane” and “Mr. Bassman (and Piano Girl)” will be musical catnip to Berkner fans.

I am still not one of those fans, but only an idiot will tell you it isn’t raining in a thunderstorm, and while I may very well be an idiot, I’m not enough of one to try and argue against the Laurie Berkner Band’s appeal to kids and/or long-suffering spouses like my wife. Watch the video for the title track here, and hear samples from the other songs at the purchase link above.

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