Sound Off!

Tunes for Travelin’

by Kathy O’Connell

Too often, performers who mix storytelling and music allow one element to suffer. A sappy storyline will lose your listener before the music begins. Luckily, this month’s collection of family CDs includes travelin’ music for car-cramped families that combines narrative and music with entertaining results.

Kurt Gallagher’s Let’s Go! calls itself “a song cycle.” It’s the story of Penelope Pickle, the narrator’s “always on the go” sister.

Gallagher’s goofy voice grabs the listener immediately with “Our New Baby” (“scares the pants right off of us”), then continues the saga of Penelope’s quest for a new bicycle (“Thunder Leopard”) while her friend Stan tries to earn cash to build a rocket (the multi-tracked “Lemonade Stand”).

“Silent Treatment” brings Creedence Clearwater-like sensibilities and a nice drum riff to advise “don’t talk to her, she’s got nothing to say.” “Ode to Baloney” uses Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” as a base for celebrating sandwiches. “Unlady-like” punctuates Penny’s bad behavior “until she gets that shiny new bike” with old-timey mandolin sounds.

Throughout the CD, Gallagher’s charming Kermit the Frog-like voice sells the package. The kids in Let’s Go! seem real, with Stan’s dreams of business expansion and Penny’s very bad behavior when she doesn’t get her way. It’s an entertaining mixture from a popular player in New York state schools. Find Kurt Gallagher at www.kurtgallagher.com

Good Music, Good Cause
I have a soft spot for any CD that mixes good music with good work. Add in many of my favorite musicians, and you have All The Wild Wonders, a Benefit for Children with Diabetes Foundation. Producer Kim Alexander Walsh’s own daughter’s experience with the disease inspired this outstanding collection of songs that will give wings to any long car trip.

Lots of these songs are available elsewhere, but it takes a special ear to gather major family artists like Sara Hickman (“Iolana”), Trout Fishing in America (“Big Trouble”), John Flynn (“Popcorn”), They Might Be Giants (“Clap Your Hands”) and Joanie Bartels (“Thingamajig”).

The astounding lineup includes Delaware Valley favorites Steve Pullara, Lauren Hart and Joseph Parsons, as well as some lesser-known future favorites like Homespun. This well-intentioned and well-produced CD may be the best one-stop shopping for family music I’ve ever encountered. Find this good music for a good cause at www.cwdfoundation.org and www.cdbaby.com

Upbeat Animal Songs
Putumayo Kids is another one-stop shop for great family music with Animal Playground. This outstanding collection of upbeat animal songs from around the world visits Trinidad (Asheba’s “No More Monkeys”), Australia (Don Spencer’s “Don’t Ever Step on a Snake”), South Africa (Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s “Mbube”), and beyond with humor and rhythm.

Save room for Italy’s Quartetto Cetra with “Nella Vecchia Fattoria,” which somehow translates into “Old MacDonald.” America is well-represented, with music from New Orleans (Phil Melancon’s “If a Dinosaur Was My Friend”), Chicago (Wee Hairy Beasties’ “Animal Crackers”), and Austin (Terri Hendrix’ “Eagles.”)

A good cause benefits here as well — a portion of album revenue goes to the Wildlife Conservation Society. Find Animal Playground at www.putumayokids.com

Kathy O’Connell is a contributing writer to MetroKids and host of the Peabody-award-winning Kids Corner, weekdays 7-8pm on WXPN 88.5 FM.