Tag Archives: Tor Hyams

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.

CD Review: Recess Monkey, “The Final Funktier”

The Final Funktier sounds like it should be the title of a Star Trek sequel starring Bootsy Collins, but it’s really the name of the latest opus from Recess Monkey, the Seattle-based kindie kingpins who have been breaking new ground for family music since releasing their 2005 debut. Each of the Monkey’s previous five releases were stuffed with thematic and stylistic adventures, from Aminal House to Tabby Road to last year’s Field Trip, but the band has outdone itself with The Final Funktier, which collects an impressive cast of special guests (including Tor Hyams, Chris Wiser of the Sugar Free Allstars, and members of the Gustafer Yellowgold family) for a space dance party. With lots of slap bass. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? It is. Continue reading

CD Review: Milkshake, “Great Day”

61LF0thKmRL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]Milkshake – Great Day (2009, Milkshake Music)
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Milkshake isn’t just a band, it’s a budding media empire. Since rising from the ashes of Baltimore’s LOVE RiOT in 2002, they’ve become fast favorites of the indie kidpop world, releasing three well-received CDs (Happy Songs, Bottle of Sunshine, and PLAY!), a DVD (Screen Play, issued earlier this year), appearing all over the Noggin, Discovery Kids, and PBS Kids networks, and even spinning off a Milkshake comic book (featuring the band as superheroes, natch); with their brand new fourth album, Great Day, they stand poised to rock the diapers off musically adventurous children of all ages.

I don’t mean “rock” ironically, either — Milkshake’s stuff has sharper teeth than most children’s music, and it’s more musically adventurous to boot: Great Day‘s dozen tracks lead the listener on a madcap dash that boasts punk-kissed pop (“Shake It Up”), hints of zydeco (“Statue of Me”), and a dash of newgrass (the banjo-laced “When I’m Old”). It’s also packed to the rafters with stringed instruments, from the aforementioned banjo to the ukulele, mandolin, and hollow-body Gretsch guitar (lended by ex-Glenmont Pope Rodney Henry). It’s fun, mostly uptempo stuff, with messages that are both appealing (“I want five scoops of ice cream, piled up so high”) and important (“You did it! Yeah! I gotta say I think you’re great”) for the band’s target demographic. Continue reading