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June 10, 2010

New Music: Party Like a Twinkle Star

There’s no question children’s music has improved leaps and bounds in the past several years, both in overall quality and in the number of artists of that higher quality. But while it’s great that musicians capable of professional-quality adult rock, pop, and even hip-hop have turned to the grade-school and preschool set, let’s face it: Parents’ gratitude rarely extends to listening to albums full of songs about pirates and bedtimes when the kids aren’t around.

The Bay Area’s Charity and the JAMband get that. Just from the title, you know Party Like a Twinkle Star’s subject matter is unabashedly for kids. And frontwoman Charity Kahn, whose smooth, easy voice sounds like a cross between Carole King and Joan Osborne, has a knack for never forcing things with her lyrics: A simple song about pancake ingredients is a simple song about pancake ingredients, and that’s just fine. More than fine, in fact—it prevents the cloying factor that’s still the bane of so much music for children, even nowadays.

But back to the music for a second: This double album is divided between a disc of uptempo, upbeat songs (the “Party” disc) and a quieter disc of lullabies and ballads (the “Twinkle” disc). On both, the band shows off ability, as well as its multitude of musical influences, which include nearly every major figure in the ’70s and ’80s pop-folk-rock nexus, from Neil Young and Jackson Browne to the Indigo Girls and Joni Mitchell. (There’s even a specific nod to Joni, a rolling anthem on the “Party” disc called “We Are Stardust.”) And despite the lyrics’ firm grounding in kid territory, several of the tracks are complex and surprising enough musically to raise an adult eyebrow or two—the lovely acoustic-guitar riff that anchors “A Little Night Music,” reminiscent of Nick Drake; the charming, catchy Cat Stevens-esque piano dance of “Moon Hug.”

So while the words will always keep you apprised of Charity and the JAMband’s focus on entertaining your children (just from the energy in these tracks, I bet they put on a hell of a live kids’ show), you’ll find yourself enjoying the melodies and harmonies just as much as they do. And, “best of both worlds” high-profile exceptions like They Might Be Giants aside, isn’t that what the new era of kids’ music is supposed to be about?

[Images courtesy of Charity and the JAMband]

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