Tag Archives: CD Review

CD Review: Cat and a Bird, “Cat and a Bird”

Cats and birds, generally speaking, don’t play nicely together — check any random Sylvester and Tweety short if you don’t believe me — but the laws of the universe have been known to bend from time to time, and here’s Cat and a Bird’s breezily addictive debut for proof.

Offering a dozen tracks of jazzy, acoustic-based pop, topped off with sun-kissed melodies and delightfully charming female vocals, Cat and a Bird is kind of like a kindie-friendly version of Swing Out Sister mashed up with, I don’t know, Leon Redbone or something — only with sharper hooks and extra helpings of tongue-in-cheek humor. The whole thing sounds like a smile on a warm spring day, and given that I’m writing this while surrounded by hard-packed mid-March New Hampshire snow, you can probably guess how much I appreciate listening to it.

It is, in a word, wonderful, and I can’t stop listening to it. (Not that I’d stop if they didn’t, but my kids love it too.) The arrangements are fairly sophisticated for family music (and I’m not complaining), but the lyrics are decidedly kid-friendly; each track tells a different animal-centric tale, from “Bee Jive” to “Butterfly,” “Night Owl,” and the insanely catchy “150 Year Old Surfer Turtle” (listen to it once and then try and get it out of your brain — I dare you). Check out the lyrics, along with adorable illustrations, at the Cat and a Bird website.

CD Review: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, “Songs from a Zulu Farm”

Ladysmith Black Mambazo has one of the most unique sounds in modern music — and also one of the most malleable, as demonstrated by a run of recent projects that has seen their traditional isicathamiya vocals blended with electronic textures (Chillout Sessions), the English Chamber Orchestra (No Boundaries), and a wide array of pop-star special guests (Long Walk to Freedom). All of these releases have their charms, but there’s still nothing quite like the sound of the group’s voices in their purest form, and their new album, Songs from a Zulu Farm, is a fitting return to basics.

I say “fitting” because Songs from a Zulu Farm is a children’s album, at least nominally speaking; it’s a collection of traditional songs that Ladysmith’s members remember from their youth, and while they haven’t released a single album that wouldn’t be appropriate for kids — and while it’s extremely unlikely your children will be familiar with songs like “Imbongolo” or “Ntulube” — there’s an increased sense of the group’s trademark childlike joy in these songs that culminates with the playful closing track, “Old MacDonald Zulu Style.”

If your kids aren’t accustomed to hearing vocal music, or lyrics they can’t understand, they may approach Songs from a Zulu Farm warily. My daughter, for one, took awhile to warm up to it; at first, she just couldn’t get past the fact that she didn’t know what was happening in the songs. But she eventually came around, and that’s part of what kids’ music is all about — giving parents an opportunity to act as a gateway into new sounds for our children. All of what they hear doesn’t have to be — shouldn’t be — the stuff they’re accustomed to, and often, as with Songs from a Zulu Farm, expanding their horizons helps reinforce the beautiful universality of the language of music. It’s a journey we should all take more often.

Visit Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Facebook page to hear tracks from Zulu Farm, as well as watch videos (including the behind-the-scenes electronic press kit).

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CD Review: Dog on Fleas, “The Bestest of the Best”

Dadnabbit’s love of all things Dog on Fleas and/or Dean Jones has been well-documented ’round these parts, so I’m not going to even pretend to be objective about the band’s first best-of collection, the aptly titled The Bestest of the Best. Basically, what I’m about to say boils down to two things:

1. I love it; and
2. You should buy it now.

That’s really it. If you trust my judgment at all when it comes to family entertainment, just stop reading now and order copies of The Bestest of the Best for your family and your closest parent-type friends. Come back here later to thank me. (You’re welcome.)

If you need to know more for some reason, here it is: The Bestest of the Best culls a marvelous 20 tracks from the band’s previous six albums, and while they’ve expressed unreasonable modesty where their earlier stuff is concerned (they’re taking a pair of older titles out of print, which is what prompted Bestest), everything here hangs together brilliantly, from newer songs to re-recorded versions of older tracks to the marvelous “Buffalo Gals,” recorded with Elizabeth Mitchell for a charity compilation and making its first appearance on a Dog on Fleas CD.

It’s just terrific stuff — warm, gently whimsical, and packed with lyrical gems. Dog on Fleas’ music soothes (the heartwarming “Beautiful World,” which contains the brilliant line “God goes clamming and brings up a pearl / Beautiful world, beautiful world”), it makes you think (the jaunty “The Moon Song” compares our changing moods — and the ups and downs of our days — to “the waxing and the waning of the moon”), it makes you laugh (the times-tables-by-way-of-shouting “Twistification”), it brings a tear to your eye (the simply beautiful “Happy”).

Put simply, the band makes music about things that matter — about love, about family bonds, about respecting the world around us. They impart their messages without being preachy, and they perform without artifice; these are songs that sound like the work of people together in the same room. If I could buy a copy for everyone, I would.