June 3, 2011
Today's children's music is more and more geared toward a sound that both adults and kids will enjoy. And with an ever-increasing number of established adult musicians delving into the kid genre (from They Might Be Giants to Barenaked Ladies to The Verve Pipe), it was probably just a matter of time until someone recorded the first "accidental" crossover.
California duo Sunshine Collective may get the honor with their first full-length album—and not just because its title, Wanna Play?, would fit in nicely among the Justin Roberts and Frances England CDs. The 12 tracks of sunny pop music weren't recorded specifically for kids, and wouldn't feel out of place on any playlist of modern-pop singer-songwriters. But the crossover appeal of the second track, "I Just Wanna Play," got it some play on family-music radio this year—which led to the discovery that the entire album is not only accessible to kids, but enthralls them. (My two sons, especially the six-year-old, now insist on hearing it over and over.)
That's in some part because, not having been aimed at children particularly in the first place, Sunshine Collective’s songs don't pander to them in the slightest, and kids always appreciate that. But it's mostly because Stephanie Richards and Brian Arbuckle have a knack for writing upbeat, catchy songs that you’re happy not to be able to get out of your head, from "LA (Beautiful Day)"—which sounds like the pop song Bob Mould never wrote for Katrina and the Waves—to the Indigo Girls-esque "This Day” and the jaunty, Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli-tinged “Love Makes Life So Sweet.”
And even though these are songs written for adults, the happy themes keep anything objectionable out of the lyrics—even the playful innuendo in "Love Makes Life So Sweet" is more innocent then what you hear on Norah Jones albums parents play around their kids all the time. Add the appeal of Richards’s vocals, which put you in mind of everyone from Shawn Colvin and Feist to Joan Osborne—she has one of those voices that seem to come with a permanent smile—and you have perhaps the most pleasing-to-the-whole-family album of the year. (It’d be a great soundtrack for summer road trips!)
[Cover image courtesy of Sunshine Collective]