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CD Review: Uncle Rock 

click to enlarge Jackpot Music, 2007
  • Jackpot Music, 2007
American kids have it tough when it comes to finding good music. Consider the stale porridge out there. For generations, mealymouthed characters from Howdy Doody to Barney have served up defanged folk tunes or syrupy nursery rhymes while extolling good conduct and the blessings of conformity. Raffi was another blight on the landscape until Dan Zanes of the Del Fuegos began making the younger generation boogie.

The Hudson Valley’s Uncle Rock (aka Chronogram’s Robert Burke Warren) stands among the few artists whose music speaks to kids, not at them. His third CD, Uncle Rock U., mines folk, funk, and rootsrock for 17 upbeat, flat-out fun tunes that celebrate polar bears, fire engines, grumpy neighbors, and more. There’s ample reason for Uncle Rock’s startling range: In addition to having been a preschool teacher’s assistant, Warren was bassist for The Fleshtones, a legendary New York garage band. As evidenced by the children singing along on this CD, Uncle Rock (and his agile backup band) knows how to get a kid’s party revved up—without the condescension that often mars this genre, and minus any cynical asides inserted for restless adults.

Uncle Rock’s deceptively simple compositions invite comparison to the work of old-time troubadours like Woody Guthrie. Without finger-wagging, he manages to quietly slip in some good-sense messages about self-esteem (“Captain Courage Theme”), animal conservation (“It’s a Bat!”), and buying organically and locally (“There’s Love in My Food”). And I double-dog dare you to stand still when he strums the awesome “ Superhero Medley.”

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