Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lisa Loeb's Less Inspired Outing: The Book/CD Catch The Moon.

The Good: Vocals are decent, "Stop And Go" is interesting
The Bad: Poor replayability, Phrasing in book is awkward, Short, Somewhat uninspired musical choices.
The Basics: With few truly different interpretations on traditional children's songs, a dull book and multicultural children's songs pushed to the back, Catch The Moon flops.

For those who might not know, the way that I manage to live these days as a writer and a reviewer and still review about twenty compact discs a month is that I have a pretty awesome local library which seems to get a perverse thrill out of filling interlibrary loan requests for me. As a result, almost every day there is something new for me at the library and I often do not know what it will be. This month, I am reviewing the works of Lisa Loeb and because there were very few of her works in the local system, the interlibrary loan request went nationwide.

It was quite a surprise for me - and the librarians who know of my loathing of children - to get in Catch The Moon, a children's book and compact disc featuring music by Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell (the book is by Erin Courtney and Bonnie Brooke Mitchell. This falls into the same category of fairly loathsome discs I have found in my artist searches like Saturday Morning Cartoons and Mary Had A Little Amp. Catch The Moon puts me in my usual bind; reviewing albums for children as an adult can be real difficult, especially if one of the things one loathes about children is how inane things surrounding them may be. In the case of children's music, as well, it is tough for me to evaluate because the lyrics are necessarily simplistic and thus somewhat banal.

With thirteen tracks, clocking in as 31:43, Catch The Moon is most obviously not the unique work of Lisa Loeb or Elizabeth Mitchell. Out of the thirteen songs, Loeb wrote only one on her own, co-wrote three others - usually with Mitchell. The rest of the songs are traditional or are written by other artists, like Stephen Foster ("Oh Susanna") or Bob Dylan ("New Morning"). Loeb sings on all of the tracks, save one (though on three she is relegated to harmonies) and she plays banjo or guitar on several of the tracks. There are no production credits on the album, so it is impossible to discern how much of the album is within the pair's control and how happy they were with the results.

The songs on Catch The Moon are an interesting range of folk songs, like "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and "Oh Susanna" and more obvious children's songs, like "Little Red Caboose" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." The album goes decently multicultural with Spanish, Japanese and French traditional tracks, "La Manita," "Donguri," and "Fais Do Do." The songs are generally lyrically simple and highly repetitive, making for a rather dull listening experience.

Songs like "Oh Groundhog" are remarkably repetitive and come late in the album after annoying songs like "Little Red Caboose" has plagued the listener with a problematic amount of repetition. That song is comprised mostly of the lines "Little red caboose / Little red caboose / Riding behind the train" ("Little Red Caboose") over and over and over again. It is easy to get tired of it quickly, especially with the annoying cooing "choo choo!" after each and every utterance of the word "train."

As for the more obvious tracks like "Oh Susanna" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," Loeb and Mitchell's interpretations of the songs are not terribly different from anyone else's and the sugary light vocals quickly become tiresome. The more original tracks, like Loeb's own "Butterfly" are relegated to the back half of the album and are treated like b-sides. Clearly, the songs that most people are more familiar with are designed to drive the album and in this case, it falls a bit flat because the interesting tracks are treated like detritus for the listener who bothers to stick around for them.

But as far as album arrangement does, Catch The Moon is a poor choice for those who might want to have their child fall asleep with the album on a loop. "Fais Do Do" is an obvious lullaby that follows on the heels of the more energetic "Free Little Bird" and any hope that Young One might fall asleep to "Fais Do Do" when the album is set to replay over and over again is shattered by the louder and more obvious guitars of "Big Rock Candy Mountain." The thing is, given the energy of "Free Little Bird" and its preceding tracks, it's a tough sell to predict that "Fais Do Do" might knock the little kids out, which encourages parents to simply replay it, which is just as likely to wake them back up. Similarly, putting the lullaby "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" right before the energetic and instructional "Stop And Go" is utterly ridiculous. The album is poorly arranged for those who want a recording to stimulate, then sedate, a child.

On that note, though, it is worth noting that Catch The Moon is a decent album when it hits "Stop And Go." This original track is simply a fun collection of strummings and commands that allows children to listen and learn to follow directions like "stop," "go," "shake," "jump," etc. It's actually a fun track for people of any age, but it does not stimulate adults to actually shake (or do anything but listen).

As for the book, it is ten thick cardboard pages long and tells the story of Ruby West and Ella Jane who are out looking at the moon. They play and try to catch stars and throw the moon and dance around. It's pretty basic stuff and I'm not exactly sure what the point of the book is other than to get young girls to notice that there are stars and a moon in the sky.

However, the way it goes about that might be a bit problematic, especially for the younger readers. There are awkward phrases, like ". . . dream by star moon light" which is poetic and nice, but strangely complicated for children. My mother is a pre-kindergarten teacher and she thought that the indirect phrasing might lead children to not quite get the meaning (she thought the rest of it was about up to industry standards).

But for me, the book and album combination fall a bit short. I suppose if I'm being subjected to this much children's music, I'd like more that is either truly original or the artists to do something different and impressive enough to justify the outing. Compact discs can hold quite a bit of information and it would have been nice to hear Loeb and Mitchell fill the album up as opposed to keeping it underdeveloped and sugary.

The best track is "Stop And Go," the low point is the unmemorable "La Maniba."

For other works by Lisa Loeb or children’s albums, check out my reviews of:
The Very Best Of Lisa Loeb
Sesame Street Platinum All-Time Favorites


For other music reviews, please be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of the albums and singles I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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