Albums written and recorded especially for young children are the diciest of propositions for parents. Repeated requests (nay, commands) of â€œplay it againâ€ can soon become torture to older ears. There are precious few records in the world that you can listen to over and over (and over and over), and even fewer that will entertain both toddler and adult. James Andrew â€œUkulele Jimâ€ Clark has found a winning formula in combining clever original songs, well-weathered favorites of the playground set, and a few left-field selections that fit nicely in the mix. Central to Clarkâ€™s appeal is his inviting singing voice and the ukuleleâ€™s unique ability to create a friendly, relaxing mood anywhere, anytime.
The album opens with the title songâ€™s brilliant evocation of a magical jumping flea circus. Instrumentalist Ben Ticehurst adds musical flair with his tuba, organ and celesta, and Clarkâ€™s Alvin-and-the-Chipmunks styled flea voices are very cute. But itâ€™s the cleverness of his imagery that will amaze and astound. For one night only, a tiny-top tent houses a ukulele-playing flea standing upon a thimble as he presents his singing and dancing brethren, a high wire centipede act, acrobat grasshoppers jumping through rings of fire, pill bug canon balls, and an all-beetle band. The circus returns later in the album to reprise a lullaby coda of crickets accompanying the circusâ€™ exit and dreams of its return.
Clark provides his young audience many opportunities to stretch their imaginations, wondering what theyâ€™ll be when they grow up, picturing dream worlds, selecting super-powers, and providing a happy ending for the anthropomorphic horn of â€œThe Lonely Little Saxophone.â€ Clarkâ€™s rendition of â€œWheels on the Busâ€ manages to swing a bit mid-song, and with â€œRock a Bye Babyâ€ he marries the classic lullaby (three distinct verses, plus refrain!) to the bass line and piano vamp of the Beatlesâ€™ â€œOb-La-Di, Ob-La Da.â€ Ticehurst adds lovely strings and glockenspiel to â€œLittle Star,â€ and the exotica classic â€œYellow Birdâ€ (famously recorded by vibraphone master Arthur Lyman) provides an unexpected treat from the past.
The disc winds down with the restful â€œCowboy Songâ€ which might help ease children to bed if not for the litany of excuses cataloged in â€œThe Bedtime Blues.â€ As a bonus, and just in time for the holiday season, the disc closes with an original Christmas song. The vocal accompaniment of his young twins will remind you of the banter between Alvin and Dave Seville, though here the children scold the parent when his imagination strays. Clark will delight children with his singing and songs, and he thankfully avoids the pitfalls that make such albums a trial for parents. [Â©2010 hyperbolium dot com]