ARTIST: Earthworm Ensemble

TITLE: I See Earthworms in L.A.

LABEL: Western Seeds Records

RELEASE DATE: February 19, 2010

By Joel Okida

Earthworm_Ensembl_CD_Cover.jpgIn the category of children's music, dozens of musicians have made their entire careers writing and performing music exclusively for tykes and pre-teens. A handful of acoustic musicians who usually write sensitive adult songs will occasionally make the foray into a children's album as their own offspring or those near to them can often be the catalysts for creating kid choruses. Some well-known performers have crossed-over for a stab at creating a songbook of tunes palatable to the little ones. Leadbelly, Johnny Cash, and David Grisman are just a few that come to mind. And a few years ago, even the alt-country guys and gals took some time away from songs of dark love, dark roads, the dark before light, and whiskey, and contributed some bouncy rhymes to The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides. When Rosie Flores, Kay Lenz, Alejandro Excovedo, and the Handsome Family, amongst others, toss their shovels in, you know there's a chance something good will happen on that side of the sandbox.

With this in mind, the rootsy Earthworm Ensemble has arrived with a fertile musical offering friendly for children and parents alike. Comprised of well-regarded Americana music seers and shamans, I See Hawks in L.A., members of their families and musical friends, it is freshly produced by Hawks Shawn Nourse and Paul Lacques. The original seed germinated from Hawks drummer Nourse and wife, Sherri, composing a few songs for their son, Nolan, and the concept grew to include Lacques and wife, Victoria Jacobs. Eventually, other band members and friends joined in. In addition, local harmonizers, The Chapin Sisters, provide supple vocal accompaniment on three tracks. Zachariah, the Discovery Science Channel host, and local roots music songbird, Christina Ortega, pop in for vocal support on a number, too. As one would expect, the lean is mostly toward the country sound and the rural twang, but there are lullabies and nursery rhymes and even a beat heavy rap recipe song in Pizza Moon, tossed into the mix.

Keep in mind that a children's album is really for the entire family because you, your aunt, and your neighbors will be listening or singing along with the kids to these tunes. So to make it even more palatable for the adult, there is a strong showing of deft musicianship provided by the ensemble. That being said, some songs are produced folksy enough to play along with your ukulele, jaw harp (see Corn) and whatever kitchen percussion is handy, in addition to the obvious sing-along aspect. Of course, the appeal here is that when songs are simple and direct, you and child get the gist of the tune right off the bat and it becomes familiar in no time. That's probably missing from a lot of adult songwriting today so maybe family music is the direction of where music should circle back to or be rediscovered. Not my call on that.

After a test listen in front of Josh and William, a couple of local under-5 year old music "experts," the opening song, The Traveling Train, got a rousing thumbs up or maybe toes up, for inducing spontaneous wiggle-mania (the earth squirm?). Train songs aren't just for box car jumping troubadours and Johnny Cash, y'know. Fiddler Brantley Kearns and David Jackson on bass exchange high and low note vocals on this catchy tune. Bear & Dog, offers the chorus, "We are Bear & Dog" with positive propagation of saving the planet and engendering images of animal trust and bonding. Some psychedelic super-powers are thrown in for good measure.

Other songs like, That's What the Earthworm's For, Sherri Nourse's and Victoria Jacobs' lovely, We Are Birds, and Little Willie Buffalo underscore the use of animal kingdom imagery while giving them purposeful identity. Musically, these songs graze in different patches of the musical prairie. The first is sung in nursery rhyme format, the second as a lullaby, and the third in a near N. Orleans piano rag a la Professor Longhair. The aforementioned The Traveling Train and the bouncy Corn also give fruits and vegetables their due. So that kind of diet propaganda should make parents very happy!

This album provides a song or two for kids who may still be doing the "crawl" to those who might already be volunteer sou chefs in the kitchen. It's about singing what we see around us when we step outside the door, observe what's close to home, and what we might see if we jumped on a train or a spaceship or just walked. It's about a cup of imagination and a teaspoon of optimism for the young-uns who might need this more than ever nowadays, before they grow up too fast and become bored IT consultants. Not too many mamas have to worry about their babies becoming cowboys anymore. But, just in case, like the title of another track on the recording, there's some assurance here that Mama Loves You, no matter how you grow up.

Joel Okida is a struggling artist, struggling writer, and struggling musician. It occurs to him that life is all about the struggle. Fortunately, he did not take up acting. However, he's not half-bad as a zydeco dancer and the ability to make a mean gumbo and lovely walnut tortes has gotten him by.