I’m not a huge fan of concept albums because they take themselves way, way too seriously, and because it’s usually the result of pretention and unchecked hubris from a musician who thinks because he can write an expressionistic song he can somehow tell a long narrative through an innately non-narrative form. But maybe concept albums are absolutely perfect for kids. (Or song cycles rather.) As they are supposed to introduce kids to music and teach them something about the world around them, an album of songs on the same subject really hammers a point home, and demonstrates connections between different things that the little one may not have noticed as of yet.
I think of this as I listen to Grow by Canadian singer-songwriter Andrew Queen. It’s a playful, refreshingly non-cloying kiddie record all about food: veggies, spaghetti, strange brews, and cheesy mac. Yes, kids albums often have songs about food because that’s something kids can relate to, but Queen and Karen Stille go to different places with it, and don’t talk down to kids, always a danger in this genre. The songs are an even mix of originals and inventive adaptations of folk songs; “The Pizza Tree” replaces the spaghetti in the “On Top of Old Smokey” kiddie parody “On Top of Spaghetti” with pizza, for example.
The music itself is jaunty and pleasant, rocking a bluegrassy, Union Station-meets-NPR kind of vibe. The musicianship across the board is excellent and confident with standout performances from mandolinist Nicolas Tjelias and Luke Mercier on the banjo, and Queen on the jug, gut bucket, and jaw harp. This is one you won’t mind having on in the car and is a great way to introduce kids to something other than straight-up rock or pop.