Ants Ants Ants’ Why Why Why?
I picked up Ants Ants Ants‘s new album Why Why Why? because it straddled a nice sweet spot, music I can share with my godkids, ages 6 and 8, on roadtrips without anyone’s sanity or boredom being threatened. The Portland, Oregon-based band, made up of Johnny Clay and Dave Gulick, have assembled a fun, light set of family-friendly tracks, many of them featuring guest appearances by a variety of musicians, including Kelly Anne, Christi Clay, and Rose City Horns.
Peppy and positive “Morning Song” is worthy of any age’s workout playlist, as are “I Spy,” “Ants,” and “Helicopter Leaves,” while “Pinwheel” is a bouncy hymn to cooperation and determination.
“Are We There Yet?” and “Why Why Why” are tributes to conversations many of us have had with kids at one time or another. “Blue” is a pretty ode to the color that lingers in the memory afterward, as does “Where Does the Moon Go?” whose driving pep slides every once in a while into a certain existential wistfulness. This song signals a move to less energetic music. “Willow Tree,” the next-to-last song, even seems to fringe on melancholy in a way that takes the mood down and which kids may find on the slow side but sure is pretty. It’s followed by “Stars,” another slower song that closes out the album. Depending on when you feed them, this album might effectively slide everyone in the backseat into naptime and no longer asking, “Are we there yet?”
My sole caveat would be that “Six Pickup Sticks,” featuring a chorus of children’s voices that sometimes seem to border on shrill, might not be my choice of songs to put on infinite replay. The chorus appears on a number of tracks in the first half of the album; this is the only one where I found it obtrusive.
(Pinwheel Records, 2018)
Another family-friendly album worthy of a listen is Red Yarn’s Old Barn, which includes something I highly approve of, a booklet with the lyrics. Also Portland-based, this duo uses puppets in performances as well, and their site is worth checking out for the behind-the-scenes photos. This is their fifth album, and they’ve clearly got their act together, no pun intended. Overall there’s a more mature vibe than Why Why Why, including several adaptations of traditional folk songs like “Sally Ann” and “Did You Feed My Cow?”.
This album has a strong country bluegrass vibe, complete with banjo picking, that usually is pleasant, although it feels overly insistent in places, like the last track “My Barn Door is Open.” But title song “Old Barn” rocks and sways us into the album to celebrate with “all the critters” and its fairytale friends, including the cat and the fiddle, followed up by “Down in the Meadow,” which exudes a party energy that will get you dancing, or at the least singing along and waving your arms during the exuberant chorus.
“Old Hen Cackled” is a traditional African-American folksong adapted to the times:
The old hen she cackled, she cackled on her feet
Next time she cackled, she cackled in the street
The old hen she cackled, she cackled at the protest
Next time she cackled, “I cannot condone this”
The old hen she cackled, she cackled in the boardroom
Next time she cackled, she cackled in the courtroom,
The old hen she cackled, a beacon like a lighthouse,
The next time she cackled, she cackled at the White House.
“Go Little Gator” is a contemplative song, rhythmic as a freight train, nostalgic as a look in the rearview mirror, while “Barn Dance” is polka-quick and spotted with yippy ti yi yays. “Barnfire” slows things down to take a look at the times, while “Till The Cows Come Home” gets to the point where that meditation trudges along pretty darn slowly, almost unpleasantly. Fortunately, “To Raise a Barn” builds interest and energy back up again.
(Red Yarn Productions, 2018)