Various Artists: The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides
For a while now, I've been concerned about my niece, recently turned five.
Don't get me wrong: Her parents have done a great job, but the Purple Dinosaur is hard to escape. Actually, in the beginning, my brother and sister-in-law were firm: Their kid would not have anything to do with Barney. But the Purple One was insidious, sneaking into their house as decoration on a brand of diapers; pretty soon, it was the whole deal: TV show, books, music.
From there, it was a short step to all the other music that targets kids, an insipid mix with what sounds like the continuous drone of cash registers providing the backing vocals. And she loved it. I didn't think it could get worse.
I was wrong.
I will never forget when my niece enthusiastically turned to me and said, "Aunt Renee, I love Toby Keith" before launching into a positively joyful rendition of "I Wanna Talk about Me".
I knew then that it was time to act.
Fortunately, Bloodshot Records has the perfect antidote to fight off Barney and other insipid children's music (including Toby Keith): The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides.
Bloodshot's press release gets right to the point: "[W]e realized that these hard-core music fans have been saddled . . . er . . . blessed with the joys of parenthood. Since many of our artists are in the same boat, we thought it was high time Bloodshot entered the children's music fray." This 26-song album is "for the amusement of children and arrested adolescents everywhere."
The fun starts with the title, a clever appropriation of a signature Merle Haggard tune (highlighted as a tattoo on the arm of cover model Owen McGoom), and never looks back. In fact, much of the album's artwork is provided, fittingly enough, by the children of some of those adding songs, including Preston Fulks, Owen Greiner, Casey Hurd, Vance Hurd, Jimmy Langford, Sophie Sherry, and Isabel Swingle.
In a word -- and to throw the Purple Dinosaur's own rhetoric back at him -- The Bottle Let Me Down is Super-dee-dooper, a fun mix of country, bluegrass, rockabilly and folk.
Rockabilly Filly Rosie Flores gives the wagon its first push with her version of "Red, Red Robin"; Kelly Hogan follows that with her fittingly melodramatic " Señor El Gato" (Meow, meow, meow).
And from that point, this wagon just never slows down.
Included in the collection are covers of songs we all remember like "On Top of Spaghetti", here by Jane Baxter who's added plenty of accordion, or there's "Hinky Dinky Dee" from One Riot One Ranger. And let's not forget Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys with that Sesame Street classic "It's Not Easy Being Green". Split Lip Rayfield does things their own way with their combination of three children's favorites in "The Weasel, the Bean, the Frog, and the Dog".
Then there are originals. With "Sad and Dreamy (The Big 1-0)", a song co-written with Michael Francasso, Alejandro Escovedo is flawless as always. Here an introspective ten-year old decides that the good times are really over for good: "The candy's just not as sweet anymore". Robbie Fulks adds "Godfrey" about "the sickly unemployed amateur children's musician" who spends his days charming children -- until he's sent to Belleview for being a bit too charming. (Bloodshot writes of Fulks' song, "We assume no responsibility for any ensuing flaps.")
An album highlight, though, is the Cornell Hurd Band's "Don't Wipe Your Face on Your Shirt", which begins with a kid asking his father what his pet peeve is. As the music begins, the child sighs, "Oh no. He's gonna sing again". This swing tune finds the freethinking father lamenting his children's using their shirts as washcloths. Their parents are, after all, musicians trying to look respectable for the neighbors.
It wouldn't be a Bloodshot record without some gothic -- think of it as the "Grimm" side of things. There's Carolyn Mark's dramatic reading of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff", "The Fox", a Welsh folk song John Langford remembers from his childhood, here performed by the Waco Brothers, and Freakwater's eerie version of "Little Red Riding Hood", complete with wolf howls and a steel guitar.
Why, they've even added a few instrumentals: "Camptown Races", "Turkey in the Straw", and "Cartoon Chicken" that just beg for a sing-a-long.
Simply put: There's nothing in this collection that lets the listener down. And I'm hoping that enough of this will rub off on my niece and her fellow kindergartners so that we can avoid a grim future of Toby Keith, boy bands, and American Idol.
Pour me another round.