Released in 2003, the debut self-titled CD from Los Angeles' Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang had its genesis in the 2000 movie Chuck and Buck.
Movies about stalking childhood friends 15 years later don't typically serve as the inspiration for forming a children's music band, but Beck drummer and music producer Joey Waronker asked unimonkered LA folk-rock singer Gwendolyn to contribute a song to the movie soundtrack -- out of that grew this entire album.
The entire album has the feel of a Saturday morning cartoon or kids' variety show. Gwendolyn sings with a somewhat high-pitched and nasally-pinched voice. In addition, there appear to be "characters" singing along on many of the songs (there are characters pictured on the CD case but the liner notes aren't clear). The entire thing just screams, "CUTE!"
As someone who tends to react allergically to cartoony voices and cuteness in general, I mentally prepared myself to actively dislike the album. It's a testament to the strength of the melodies and musical production that I can look past the characters' voices and focus on the melodic hooks.
Some of those hooks have lodged in my brain, and may never come out. "Anatomy" isn't much more than a spoken-word recitation of a whole bunch of body parts and their purpose, but the poppy chorus, "It's your anatomy," repeated nearly ad nauseum, is running through my head right now over and over. "Farm Animal Friends" has a nice loping country song feel to it. The song from Chuck and Buck, "Freedom of the Heart (Ooodily, Oodily)," isn't necessarily a kids' song, but it's got a kid-like feel and a very '70s pop sound and a chorus that goes "Oodily oodily oodily oodily oodily oodily fun fun fun." (I assure you, it's head-bopping.) The song "Little Monkey," for a character which appears to be an Elvis impersonator, has a suitably '50s Elvis-like sound. In addition to being catchy musically, the band (seven members in total) sounds good, too.
Lyrically, the 26-minute album deals squarely with typical preschooler concerns -- manners, sharing, washing, and bugs, among other things. The lyrics are direct ("Please" -- "When you say things with a smile / A little tiny inch becomes a mile / You can go far when you're cheerful / Because nobody likes someone who's tearful"). The earnest lyrics don't leave a lot of room for adult humor, but some sneaks in. (In the aforementioned "Anatomy," Gwendolyn mentions, "Hair / Everybody has hair / Well, except for my dad.")
Given the show-like approach of the music and lyrics, the album is most appropriate for kids aged 2 through 6. You can hear samples of music from their two albums and a full download of "Farm Animal Friends" here. You may want to double check that the characteristics of the CD I could see past you can see past, too. The album is available through their website or the usual online suspects.
Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang had all the hallmarks of being a CD I wasn't going to like at all, but very quickly it wore down my defenses. It's a fun little CD with great melodies that's likely to engage your kids. Recommended.