Most parents will agree that children’s music can really get on their nerves. Having no kids of my own, I took an informal poll amongst my friends to get their opinions about the topic. I had assumed that listening to countless hours of juvenile recordings would frazzle even the most patient people, but I did not expect to hear that it could actually “destroy souls.”
Friends expressed caustic contempt for Kidz Bop and told me they had P.T.S.D. from listening to “The Elmo Slide” and “Pat-A-Cake” far too many times, but “Baby Shark” took the prize for most insidious due to its penchant for getting stuck in the head, haunting the consciousness of the unfortunate listener on endless loops even after the music stopped playing. (I can vouch for this from experience because I listened once just to see what the fuss was about and a few days later, I am still singing it over and over.)
Parents with children of a slightly older age voiced that movie soundtracks, while better music in general, nevertheless drive them insane due to repetition, as my friend mentioned that he was ready to stick his head in the freezer after countless listens of “Let it Go” from the Disney movie Frozen.
Recalling my own youth in the 1970s, I enjoyed the music that my parents listened to, which included a lot of John Denver, James Taylor, Jim Croce and other easy listening singer-songwriter types. Looking way back to my earliest days when my sister and I would fire up our little record player and jam tunes together, my favorite song (discovered in a stack of 45s that had been my mom’s) was the 60s hit, “Hang on Sloopy” by The McCoys. It was a catchy tune, no doubt, but the real reason I loved it so much was because I thought they were singing, “Hang on Snoopy,” which was a sentiment I could get behind as a six-year old.
We also listened to a ton of Beatles and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” stood out as a favorite, along with “Puff the Magic Dragon” by folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary. Ironically, people had speculated that these songs were about L.S.D. and marijuana, respectively, yet the songwriters deny these assertions. (Could the fact that I eventually became a neo-hippie/Deadhead be attributed to these songs?)
We did own one piece of music that had been created specifically for children: an LP titled Free to Be You and Me by Marlo Thomas & Friends, an album comprised of songs, poems and comedy sketches. 50 years later, the songs stand the test of time with live instrumentation and messaging that promote values such as individuality, tolerance and gender neutrality, which had been a noteworthy trend in consciousness at the time. (Not to be confused with gender fluidity or other non-binary identities.)
Thankfully, over the decades since my own childhood, talented musicians have produced some albums written for children that are equally enjoyable for adults. For example, I have listened to Ziggy Marley’s Family Time (along with his recent follow up, More Family Time) and the Curious George soundtrack by Jack Johnson and Friends more times than I care to admit, considering I never had children.
Actually, scratch that. I proudly admit it, because even though the lyrical content is kid-friendly, the messaging can resonate with people of all ages and the music is undeniably great.
Inspired by those records and motivated by the fact that they and their peers now have children of their own, Slightly Stoopid’s Paul Wolstencroft and Dan (“Dela”) Delacruz produced a children’s album of their own, Sing Little Birdie, under the name Dub Town Rockers.
“We listened to a lot of kids’ music at my house,” said Wolstencroft, explaining that he divided the music into two groups. “The first group contained music with bleeps and bloops and silly voices in fake English accents singing things like ‘London Bridge’ that only my daughter would like. The second group was where we overlapped — we both loved all the Alan Menkin Disney soundtracks like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, such sophisticated music and so masterfully constructed and performed.”
Wolstencroft said that it was the Moana soundtrack that first made him realize that his musical taste could coincide with his daughter’s. They also bonded over the albums of Dan Zanes, who after making a name for himself during the 80s with garage rockers Del Fuegos, resurfaced in the new century with a series of children’s albums comprised of a mix of Americana style music and spoken-word sketch comedy. Despite these shared musical tastes with his daughter, Wolstencroft added that, ultimately, it was the Jerry Garcia & David Grisman album, Not for Kids Only, that made him realize that kids’ music could be created within any genre.
Wolstencroft and Dela started making music for their Dub Town Rockers side project as early as 2019, when during a summer tour they wrote and recorded on the bus, backstage, or wherever they could. “We knew we were on to something when we saw so many fans and musicians themselves were now starting have families of their own,” Wolstencroft said. “It just made sense to us to keep the kids’ album in the same genre we were already in, and having guests from the scene on the album.”
“I started the writing process the same way I always do,” he explained. “For any tune I record, I usually make a first version of the track doing all the drums, bass, strings, etc. myself, and I sing the melodies. I realized pretty quickly that I needed a partner to bounce ideas off of — to help me write, arrange, produce and help with the business side of things. So, I teamed up with Dela. We just have so much in common personally and musically that I knew he would be the perfect person to work with.”
To help record, the guys recruited Wolstencroft’s bandmates from his New England-based reggae band, Organically Good Trio, which included drummer Tommy Benedetti (also of John Brown’s Body) and guitarist Van Martin. About Benedetti, Wolstencroft said, “He just has the steadiest and most even beat I’ve heard, and that was essential to us.” He said the same about Martin when it came to guitar scratches and stickies, prompting him to call Martin before anyone else.
On breaks, they would hit Chillhouse Studio in Charlestown, MA, with a nearly finished demo track, and have the guys play along to it. Dela would write some horn parts and record them in San Diego with Andy Geib (also of Slightly Stoopid) on trombone.
Sing Little Birdie includes an exciting array of guest vocalists such as Chali 2na, Cas Haley, Hirie, Don Carlos, Josh Swain of The Movement, Jackson Wetherbee of The Elovaters and their bandmate in Stoopid, Miles Doughty.
“Originally, I had sung all the tracks for reference, but I knew I wanted to involve Josh Swain who had done such an amazing job writing lyrics for ‘Welcome to the Time’ by Organically Good Trio,” Wolstencroft recounted. “We had a great working demo of ‘Jump,’ (the single released on 12/18/20) and I sang some nonsense lyrics over it with the melody I had in my head. I sent Josh the track, and literally one or two days later, he sent back completed vocals with harmonies and we were blown away!”
Wolstencroft and Dela also called on Chali 2na, who they had been touring with at the time, to write a third verse for “Jump.” “He has such a unique voice and is so talented. He emailed us an amazing vocal track from his home studio.”
Sing Little Birdie, which will contain 9 tracks, is scheduled to release in full on February 12, 2021. However, Dub Town Rockers are releasing another single, “On a Sunday,” tomorrow, January 22. The track, a sweet reggae number that celebrates the joys of a Sunday “fun-day,” premieres here today.
“On a Sunday” features both Weatherbee and Doughty on vocals. “We knew all along that we wanted Jackson Wetherbee on this album,” gushed Wolstencroft. “I had met him 10-15 years ago when I was hired to play keys on one of his first albums. Even back then, I knew he was something special. Years later, I saw him at a Stoopid show and brought him backstage where he would tell me all about his new band – The Elovaters! Everything he sang on came to life.”
As for Doughty’s contribution, Wolstencroft said that the Stoopid singer/guitarist had heard “On a Sunday” on the tour bus and spontaneously began singing an original verse to it. They loved what he was doing and asked him to be on the track.
They recorded Doughty’s vocals at Stoopid Studios in San Diego on the same day that they recorded Hirie, who sings on “Sweet Dreams” along with Weatherbee, a song written by Dela based on the lullaby, “Hush Little Baby.” “She really is a superstar!” Wolstencroft said. “Such a great performer, and such good vibes.”
Another track on the album is a song titled “COCOA,” which is basically a take on “BINGO” but using Stick Figure’s famous touring canine. “When I first wrote it, I called up Scott and asked him if it was OK to write a song about his dog,” Wolstencroft laughs. “He loved the idea, and when Don Carlos agreed to sing the chorus we knew we had something!” He added that one of the best things they did on the album was to include everybody’s kids on “COCOA” and “Counting to Ten,” because having their own kids on the album “just made it that much more special.”
Wolstencroft told the story of another song he wrote that he was particularly proud of, as it contained a formula that he loved and had been fooling around with. The idea was to sing multiple verses, with each verse being one line longer than the previous verse, like the old nursery rhyme, “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” He had sung the song himself, but it wasn’t cutting it. That’s when Dela brought in Cas Haley, who “just nailed it!”
“Another one with a golden unique voice that uplifted the tune,” Wolstencroft said, adding that shortly after Cas recorded it, he was on the Grammy songwriting competition. “We were all so excited when he won!”
Wolstencroft mentioned that they couldn’t have finished the Dub Town Rockers project without the help of Will Holland at Chillhouse studios, who was “a huge asset” for them, mixing and mastering the album. He also expressed gratitude for Silverback Music, who believed in the concept, and helped guide them through “the business decisions and release process.”
To compliment the album, Dub Town Rockers are actively working on a “kids’ show, book and merchandise.”
Even though Sing Little Birdie hasn’t even been released yet, Wolstencroft is already looking to the future. “We want to use this album as a stepping stone for even bigger future releases,” he shared. “We would love to get someone like Ziggy Marley or Jack Johnson involved in a song. I’m telling everyone that I want to win the Grammy for best kids album on the next one!”
Next one? Why not this one?
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