Farmer Jason and Buddies — Nature Jams
Children, bless their hearts, have lousy taste in music. Well, that’s not entirely fair. To them, their music is great. Children have an innate interest in music – we recently put on The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” to soothe our fussing 8 week old, and he quieted down before the first chorus. Consider all the music that children are exposed to, starting from an early age: lullabies, TV shows, movies, nursery rhymes – it’s a large part of their developmental years.
No, the problem with kids’ music is that – big surprise – it’s geared to kids, not adults, and what sounds great to a child may set a grownup’s teeth on edge. It works both ways, of course. Just like you don’t want to hear the Disney Princess songbook collection for the hundredth time or the preschool pop of Justin Bieber and his ilk, your child doesn’t care about your Hank Williams box set or your Jamey Johnson albums.
Jason Ringenberg has been there. After all, the man has raised three daughters, so he’s undoubtedly suffered through more than his share of bad music. That may help to explain why the front man of alt-country heroes Jason & The Scorchers donned a pair of overalls, called himself Farmer Jason, and began singing songs about cows, tractors and skunks. With two albums under his belt, Farmer Jason has come up with a pretty strong track record for making songs that appeal to both children and their parents. After a six-year hiatus, he’s come back strong with a new album, Nature Jams, his first for the MyKazoo label.
Technically, the album is really from Farmer Jason and Buddies, and it’s probably the most eclectic group of performers ever assembled for a children’s album. Hank III, Mike Mills of R.E.M., Alison Brown and Terrance Simien all make appearances. The larger-than-life personality of Farmer Jason holds the album together, even when the songs are all over the map musically. It’s not too often that you hear rock, zydeco and polka on the same album.
Farmer Jason’s music can be appreciated by adults because he doesn’t dumb down the music for his young audience. Along with his “identical twin brother’s band” Jason & The Scorchers, multi-instrumentalists Fats Kaplin and George Bradfute and drummer Steve Ebe round out the core players, and that’s a first-class group of musicians to have on any album. They can play soft and sweet, such as the lovely “Meadowlark in Central Park” with Suzy Bogguss. However, as befitting Ringenberg’s career, a good many of these songs rock and rock hard. The Saw Doctors tear into “Well Oh Whale” with the gusto of a good Irish drinking song, and “Dison the Bison” (with Webb Wilder) and “The Glacier” (with The Scorchers) rattle the speakers as well.
The songs aren’t nursery-rhyme basic, either. Ringenberg seems to delight in coming up with the goofiest lyrics, including rhyming “tsunami” with “mommy” and “clunker” with “spelunker.” It’s silly, but it should be silly, and even the grownups are likely to get a chuckle or two while listening to the songs.
However, this is a children’s album, so its real worth is if it appeals to his target audience. Judging by my test audience (my daughters), it passed the ultimate kid test: they wanted to play it again right after the last song ended. Children tend not to overthink things like their parents do. They don’t know who Hank III and Tommy Ramone of The Ramones are. They just know it’s a cool song about a manatee. If it’s fun and catchy, that’s good enough for them.
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