Muscular family music
by Sandor Slomovits
Many of us fondly remember the musicians who recorded the songs we listened to and sang along with when we were kids. The senior set may recall Burl Ives, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger; others might think of Peter Paul and Mary (Mommy); still others, more recently, recall Raffi and Sharon, Lois and Bram. Folkies all, right? In the past few years, there's been a different trend, since Dan Zanes (of the Del Fuegos) and other prominent rockers began recording and performing music especially for children.
One such group, the Michigan-based Verve Pipe, is now rockin' for a second generation--the kids of the fans who first flocked to their shows and bought their CDs by the millions in the Nineties. After recording a number of highly acclaimed albums for indie labels and RCA, the band released their first CD for children two years ago and have since been performing regularly for kids and families, in addition to their ongoing touring for adult audiences.
Their A Family Album grew out of an invitation to write and record a children's song for a compilation album entitled Calling All Kids. After writing one song, the band's songwriters, Brian Vander Ark and Donny Brown, found themselves on a roll and soon realized they had an album's worth of songs for the preteen set.
But neither on the recording nor in their live shows for kids do they tone down the hard driving rock 'n' roll that has been the hallmark of the Verve Pipe sound for nearly two decades. This isn't folk music with bass and drums added. Instead they take their muscular rock song envelopes and stuff them with clever, carefully crafted, and appropriately silly lyrics about family-friendly subjects. "Why do they call it a hamburger, there's no ham in it. Why do they call it a sandwich, there's no sand in it. Why do they call it a hot dog, there's no dog in it (or is there)?" Another song, "We
Had to Go Home," gleefully relates some wild birthday party hijinks, while "Cereal" is a rock anthem to the breakfast staple. The repeating line, "I love my cereal" is so catchy your kids will continue belting it out--and you'll find yourself wishing that Verve Pipe would write a song that good about veggies. On the soft side, "Only One of You" gently reassures a child who's about to get a new brother or sister.
Combining serious rock 'n' roll creds and chops, the members of Verve Pipe, several of whom are now themselves parents, have found a way to channel their childhood memories into great music for kids--and for parents and grandparents who recall their rock 'n' roll youth.
Verve Pipe returns to the Ark for an 11 a.m. show on Saturday, January 21.
[Originally published in January, 2012.]