Go for better-than-TV tunes

Music - April 2006


John Howell

Nickelodeon is a big part of my life. "SpongeBob," "Jimmy Neutron" and "Danny Phantom" are at the center of my 7-year-old’s world. Consequently, I’ve become a regular viewer. Goodbye "Sopranos," hello "Fairly Odd Parents."

I can handle most of the nonstop screaming and frenzied plot lines that are the staples of the network but I honestly don’t remember my childhood being as earsplitting. Did the Roadrunner and Bugs Bunny screech constantly?

Will’s mom and I limit the amount of TV he can watch daily, and we spend plenty of time reading with him, too. Even with the TV restrictions, I find my patience sorely tested after an hour of Nick nonsense. I know the producers (and sponsors) would tell me that all the shows have a positive message and many instructional purposes. OK, whatever.

My real problem is the nonstop barrage of commercials pitching "Nick’s Greatest Hits." Constant salvos imploring our kids to buy (actually have mommy and daddy buy) CDs of computer-generated junk. An entire series of songs so disposable that the packaging it arrives in is more valuable.

In a world filled with almost 100 years of recorded music, I see no reason why my son should spend time filling his ears with "product." Too much of our kids’ lives are subjected to mindless debris. They need some solid musical ground.

The following CDs are this month’s suggestions for your family’s ears. Please spend your cash on these instead of the TV trash.

FRIENDSHIP, by Ray Charles, 1984 (reissued 2005), Sony/Columbia, $11.98.

My son has been on a Ray Charles kick for months now. We’ve bought several CDs and concert DVDs. We’ve driven up and down the Edens blasting "Hit the Road Jack," "Busted" and "Georgia on My Mind." Now he’s moved beyond the greatest hits. This album was recorded at the height of Charles’ vocal powers. It’s a collaborative effort with fellow icons.

Recorded in the mid-1980s and primarily a country album, it’s a great introduction for anyone interested in an overview of great American voices. Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Jr. all join the Genius of Soul. Bonus tracks on the reissue include Tony Bennett and Billy Joel. Will especially enjoys the tunes "Friendship" and "Two Old Cats Like Us."

ALL BY HISSELF: LIVE AT THE LONESTAR, by Dr. John, Hyena Records, 1986, $15.98.

Will has started "playing" piano. I use the term very loosely. He’ll pound on the keys, sing and rock back and forth like Ray Charles. I know, despite the cacophony, he’s learning to emulate the greats.

Dr. John is definitely one. I say this despite his contribution during the Super Bowl XX national anthem, which was a total train wreck. I explained to Will that Dr. John lives and works in New Orleans, where the hurricane wiped out the entire city. Will’s been profoundly affected by the news and pictures from the Gulf.

I started playing this CD to encourage Will to bang out any melodies he might hear in his head and heart. There’s not a lot of room to hide mistakes playing solo piano. This album is pure Dr. John. My son loves the simplicity of the music and the stories. If you want to expose your kids to pure talent, you could do far worse than this CD.

One caution: "Stagger Lee" is an American classic—but violent. However, it does make for a good lesson on the evils of gambling.

DRINKIN’ SONGS & OTHER LOGIC, by Clint Black, Equity Music Group, 2005, $17.98.

Even though he wears a black hat, Clint Black’s a good guy. Several times in his career he’s fought the music establishment and lost. In 1989, a nasty legal battle kept him off the road when he had the hottest album in America. The mega-machine named Garth Brooks stole his thunder in the early 1990s. He’s had confrontations with new Nashville, old radio and even Hollywood. These are all reasons to pick up his new CD.

My son’s just beginning to enjoy this one. Black’s song (he composed or co-composed all of them) "Code of the West" is worth the price of the album. This tune is about the days when things were right or wrong, honorable or dishonorable, black or white. Not a bad lesson to teach nowadays.

John Howell is a "Morning Show" co-host at WUSN US 99.5 Radio. He also produces and hosts "The Country Gold Show" on the Westwood One Radio Network.

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