Music Reviews
Various Artists

Various Artists

Joey’s Song: Volume 1 and Joey’s Songs for Kids: Volume 1

Joey’s Song: Volume 1 and Joey’s Songs for Kids: Volume 1 are a pair of albums benefiting the Joseph Gomoll Foundation to raise awareness for the Epilepsy Foundation. The albums are the work of Michael Gomoll, whose son Joey was not yet five years old when he died last year after battling Dravet’s Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy.

Joey’s Song is perhaps the strongest collection of the two, but that may just be my preference. I say pick ‘em both up. The money goes to a good cause. Gomoll clearly has great taste in music and great taste in friends. There are a slew of exclusive and rare tracks donated by some of my favorite folks in the business.

Folkie Tim Easton offers the acoustic guitar and harmonica fed original “In Love with You.” Another favorite folkie, Slaid Cleaves, turns in a nice cover of “Streets of Laredo.” Ed Harcourt offers his trademarked languorous pop on “The Sweetest Sound of All.”

Glasgow’s Del Amitri contributes a demo for a tune called “If Your Tears Don’t Make a Sound.” Like much of the band’s terrific ’90s output, it has pop hooks galore and of course, Justin Currie’s typically impeccable vocals to recommend it.

Thea Gilmore, who is sort of a British Tori Amos, exudes an effortless cool on “The Difference.” Backed by acoustic guitar and piano, she sings “Can you hear me talk / Whisper in those prayers in every accent that I know / I may walk the walk / It’s the only way I’ve got to hide this vertigo / And if I lose my nerve / All I know is how to talk my way out of this hole / It’s more than I deserve / And there’s not much left that won’t boil down to crowd control.”

Another great female voice, Neko Case, is represented here by “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” one of the strongest songs of her career from her most recent solo album, Middle Cyclone. Tracy Bonham provides an acoustic demo of “All Thumbs,” with cool double-tracked vocals.

Daddy, a band fronted by singer-songwriters Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack, offer up a live version of “Wash & Fold,” an acoustic Mississippi Delta slide guitar blues number. These guys are professionals.

Chicago-based singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks turns in a live cover of Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming track “I Believe in You.” Not really my favorite Dylan song, nor one of Robbie’s finer recorded moments but worth a listen for fans.

Also on the disc are Cowboy Junkies, Michelle Malone, HEM, A.A. Bondy, and, oddly, ’90s one-hit-wonders Crash Test Dummies (with a live acoustic version of that one hit).

But the biggest surprises, at least for me, come from Mike Viola and Michael McDermott. Viola’s “Hang on Mike” is a tour de force acoustic pop pep talk to himself.

“No my studio is not a bedroom,” he sings. “No my living room is not a venue / But when I sing to you my whole world changes / When you smile at my creation with a standing ovation.”

The raspy-voiced McDermott turns in a demo of a piano-backed tune called “Carry Your Cross” that makes me want to explore more of his catalog.

Joey’s Songs for Kids, while featuring many like-minded, similar artists (again, oddly, Crash Test Dummies are the lone common denominator between the two records), is a bit more of a mixed bag. But, as I say, that may just be my aversion to pretty much anything described as “children’s music.” I appreciate that parents who used to rock themselves would rather listen to their favorite artists play these tunes than say, Barney or Elmo. I get that. But who’s to say kids couldn’t just learn their ABCs from listening to, say, The Clash. In my mind, it’s never too early to introduce them to actual good music.

That being said, there is some fun stuff here. Ex-Dream Syndicate frontman Steve Wynn gives us the silly, jangly ditty “Monkeys.” Steve Forbert lends his trademark scratchy vocals to one of my favorite songs from childhood, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” here featuring pretty 12-string guitar accompaniment and a touch of harmonica. Ellis Paul turns in a nice vocal performance on “Mr. Teetot,” a change of pace tune that features some winning electric piano tinkling. And Nashville-based singer-songwriter Matthew Ryan manages to make the 72-year-old “You Are My Sunshine” his own with his raspy voice and homemade-sounding demo arrangement.

Elsewhere, The Band of Blacky Ranchette imagines what it might be like if the Velvet Underground cut “Working on the Railroad.” The Sleepytones, with a singer who sounds a little like Tom Petty, tackle a tune called “Little Blue Horses,” which provides a pleasant listen with or without the kids. April Smith & the Great Picture Show give us an arrangement of “Say, Say Oh Playmate” that should appeal to fans of Erin McKeown. And singer-songwriter Greg Trooper, always welcome on any record, here turns in the unadorned “Upside Down Town.”

But there are some head scratchers here too. Guitar slinger Gurf Morlix pays tribute to the stars of ’60s TV western Bonanza, because, um, all the kids love Bonanza. At any rate, it’s a repetitive goof that he probably just decided to say was a children’s song. Ralph Covert’s “Pickle Me Juice” features the kind of irritating, cornball humor that gives the kids’ music genre a bad name. Jon Dee Graham turns in the gruffly voiced, ukulele-backed “Hippopotamus,” a sing-song-y, predictable number that becomes tiresome after less than one listen. Lowen & Navarro demonstrate that “The Wheels on the Bus” is simply beyond rescue, despite the kinda honky-tonk, kinda zydeco arrangement they employ here. This would frighten small children. It frightens me. Speaking of frightening, Eileen Rose and the Legendary Rich Gilbert give us “Oh Johnny LeBeck,” a jaunty, grisly story of a butcher who makes mysterious sausage and meets an untimely, but entirely appropriate end. And there is of course the aforementioned Crash Test Dummies. “And It’s Beautiful” is actually a pretty decent song and certainly one of the more instrumentally fleshed-out songs on this compilation. But other than a weird auctioneer-like vocal break from singer Brad Roberts, I’m not sure it fits the children’s song mold. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It does beg the question, however, what are they doing here?

These compilations reportedly barely scratched the surface of the support Gomoll received when he began reaching out to his favorite artists to get them to contribute tracks. So we can look forward to additional volumes in the future. There’s enough strong stuff spread across both these discs that will make this a welcome ongoing series. And the money goes to a good cause, so collect them all.

Joey’s Song:

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