While I seldom focus on young adult music, I must admit Sean McCollough’s 3rd album Earworm (Little Thing Records) is engaging and melodic. Sean is a fixture in the Appalachian folk & Americana scenes. The LP has 15 musicians and that doesn’t count the children’s chorus. So, while the list of musicians is too numerous to mention individually, I assure listeners they’re all proficient and tight as a bug in a rug.
Though the songs are meant for kids they’re written in a serious, humorous way. Each possesses a lesson but not in a silly manner; elementary or juvenile. Sean lacks mediocrity and he pushes the inspiration. They’re all charmingly polished and they’re for children — but not childish.
Sean’s musical instincts are sharp and well-served with a natural genre blend distilled yet sweetened with…well, the plain truth. Sean doesn’t try to impress with musicianship – he aims for their attention.
“Earworm,” – which describes how song melodies get stuck in your head is skillful. Sean’s banjo pluck is dominant, catchy and slick. “All Kinds of Singing” is performed descriptively about how there are so many exemplary and varying voices in a song. Similarly, in the early 60’s singer/Sun Records Producer & Engineer Jack Clement had a minor novelty approach with his clever “My Voice Keeps Changing on Me.”
Sean’s tunes are reminiscent of the great work also performed by Tom Chapin, (brother of Harry), and Australian folk singer Rolf Harris who hit in the early ’60s with a cardboard flapping effect on “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport.”
Sean displays ingenuity and that’s what separates these songs from the more childish ones.
“Sunsphere,” features female vocalist/songwriter Molly Ledford who sings with Sean and provides an attractive voice for children. “ABC (The Writing Song),” is a more modern melodic driven exercise. The late Pete Seeger would’ve approved. “Her Name Was Lady,” introduces youngsters’ ears to jazz. The band is tight, and the addition of animal sounds is not cheeky, it complements the jazzy Geol Greenlee piano.
From jazz, Sean goes grittier with a voice surrounded by steady guitar strums on “Don’t Let ‘em Get Your Goat.” He lays down a firm lesson through his lyric with an inspiring arrangement – the late Harry Nilsson in tradition and a tune Peter, Paul & Mary would’ve covered. Vince Ilagan’s bass spreads a thick carpet of notes while Jamie Cook controls the tremor of drums.
Jazzier 50’s style: “Fuzzy Brown Vine (aka Poison Ivy)” summons a bit of Randy Newman tongue in cheek without being cynical, bitter or sarcastic: “The deadliest three leaves that you’ll ever find…” Excellent groove. Putting a child at ease is the subject of “Carsick,” – a pleasantly upbeat tune about a not so upbeat subject. It makes light of serious affliction children suffer and can relate to. May even be the Dramamine on the next car trip.
Some songs are stronger than others but the final track “Big Ears” is quite the masterpiece. The instrumentation opens a comical subject, locks into excellent vocals, has exciting banjo picking laced into the children’s chorale of voices and it’s quite stunning.
Traditionally this vocalizing is more popular in England than in America. Pink Floyd used it effectively in “Another Brick in the Wall,” and Harry Nilsson used a senior citizen chorale in his “I’d Rather Be Dead (Than Wet My Bed).”
Also, surprisingly, there’s a moment when the kids count numbers quickly – a page from Phillip Glass’ classic sequence on “Einstein On the Beach.” Even if Sean didn’t know it.
Sean McCollough’s Earworm is a great children’s entertainment effort, a worthy effort and yes, I found it delightful to listen to. Sean just may be the new Sharon, Lois & Bram for children who want more character in their songs. The 44-minute collection was produced in TN by Sean and is available at CD Baby, Amazon & iTunes.
Criticism? A lyric insert would be nice so children & teachers can sing along. The artwork is a little dark for children. Something more cheerful next time?