One year ago tonight that's exactly what the Mrs. and I did. The Mouse came into this crazy world a bit past 1am on May 28th, 2007 and our lives, the Bear's included, were changed forever. I wanted to write the review of the new Frances England record in conjunction with the Mouse's first birthday for a couple reasons. Most notably because the title track is about bringing a 2nd child into your life but also because England's debut album has been the soundtrack for our quiet nights and bedtime kisses. Her music has a special place in the OWTK household and will be forever linked, in our memories, to our children's early years.
Last week Frances England released "Family Tree, her sophomore effort and the follow up to that critically acclaimed "Fascinating Creatures". The new effort comes with the kind of expectations the debut disc did not because while Creatures came out of left field, spurred on by well-deserved blogger buzz and old fashion word of mouth excitement, "Family Tree" puts Ms. England squarely in the spotlight. I've said before that "Fascinating Creatures" is my favorite kid's record ever so of course I was giddy when the new one showed up in my mailbox. While I was incredibly curious to hear the new batch of tunes I was also quite curious to hear how England's music had grown/changed since the world took notice.
I slid "Family Tree" into the laptop and started ripping it to iTunes, the music began, and...after the first listen I was nonplussed. It's not that I disliked the music, far from it actually, but "Family Tree" didn't seem to grab me and take hold like the first one did. Never before had I entered into a relationship with a new record with such a positive bias yet after one spin I was left with virtually no emotional link to these new songs. But then something happened, I found myself singing the hooks of the title track, "Fast Train to Grandma's" and "Tugboat". I was singing these tunes all freakin' day! After just one listen the simple, beautiful melodies had managed to sink their hooks into me. Then it occurred to me as I listened to the music more over the course of a couple weeks - this collection of sixteen original kiddie songs is one terrific record, it just took these ears a few more listens from start to finish to fully realize it. The sequel is a better record, but I cannot say it's head and shoulders above the original and "Family Tree" is not entirely different than "Fascinating Creatures" either. Rather, the new disc serves as the perfect companion to the elder.
"Family Tree" continues with the musical strategy of the debut - keep the songs simple, catchy and built around England's irresistible voice. Hers is a voice to die-for, capable of making anyone smile with the way she pronounces words like "baby", "bug" and "today". She is on my short list of people I would listen to read the phone book. Her voice could inject beauty into an instruction manual - in short, her vocal style is stunning.
I could write about every single song and tell you why each is an elegant three minute portrait of what it's like to be a parent or a child but I'll focus on just a couple, the last two actually. "Tugboat" features the coolest instrumentation of any of her songs, a laid back groove centered around a cool lick on the electric guitar. The tune is a sweet tale of a child pulling a parent through the tough times. What a clever way to flip the script on the usual parent-guiding-child-through-life motif. It's true that at the end of a lousy day in grown-up-land those little munchkins at home are capable of dragging us into a much happier place.
The final song, "You & Me", is more about parenting than being a kid (lyrical territory that England mines very successfully) and it might just be the best song ever written about being a mommy or daddy. It makes me tear up every single time because it reminds me how damn fast these little people that adore, trust and love us with all their might grow up and, far too often, grow apart.
One funny aside - the Bear combines two of the new tunes when she sings "What makes you so different from me...ICE CREAM!" Ha!
Word has it that Frances England is venturing out of her San Fransisco base this summer to bring the live experience to lucky audiences...only problem is I have no idea where she is playing! Ack! There is no "Shows/Live" section of her website. If I find some dates/venues, I'll be sure to post them here.
Official Site of Frances England
Buy the disc from The Pokey Pop
OWTK wants you to hear this fantastic record so we are proud to offer a Family Tree Giveaway to celebrate both this wonderful music, the Mouse's 1st birthday and the 2nd anniversary of this here blog.
For your chance to win a copy of this stellar release please leave a comment on this post sometime between right now and 11:59 pm on Sunday June 1, 2008. One random winner will be selected the next day and that lucky individual will become the owner of a Frances England "Family Tree" CD.