It was the birth of David Boulter’s son that inspired this very pretty collection of children’s songs. Boulter, one-sixth of the Tindersticks, when faced with the age-old problem of entertaining the little tyke, revisited the songs that captivated him when he was a child.
He then went to bandmate Stuart Staples with the idea for this project – getting musical buddies and heroes to cover tunes from radio, TV, school and film. Staples agreed. He provides vocals for two songs, and wrote the album’s opening theme.
Now, looking at the track listing I feared this may end up being, at times, an inadvertently sinister selection. For example, riding on the crest of a wave of a new album that’s signature tune has the very cute refrain of ‘cunts are still running the world’, is Jarvis Cocker. But somehow, thanks to his warm (believe it) Yorkshire accent, and surely having a young family himself, his recital of The Lion and Albert is worthy of Jackanory.
Also potentially awry was Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy tackling Puff The Magic Dragon. Usually yearning about sex and death, he might have made this sound a bit wrong, but as it is, it is quite simple to divorce biography and past themes from this performance. On this soft and cuddly rendition, you wouldn’t even mind have Will Oldham as your dad. Or perhaps not.
The only time Boulter and Staple’s album comes close to anything distressing is when they let Kurt Wagner’s deep drawl interpret Inch Worm, a song written for a Hans Christian Anderson soundtrack. We’re talking dark, a bit grotesque, the aural embodiment of the type of monster you envisaged when you’re mum told you not to accept lifts from strangers. Because of this horror, the Lampchop man inevitably provides the best moment of the whole CD.
At the other end of the spectrum is Staples singing Hushabye Mountain, a quite beautiful song from the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. A slow, sad lullaby, this is genuinely moving, hinting at the strange, fantastical fears that haunt one’s early childhood.
Also outstanding is White Horses. Cerys Matthews, whose voice is usually a real problem for this reviewer, does a blinding job. Like many tunes here, this is fairly obscure – it was a 1968 hit for Jacky Lee, having been lifted from a German/Yugoslavian children’s TV series. Probably, the best thing Matthews has ever done.
Long gone are the days when albums of songs for children were big sellers and went on in the car on long journeys for sing-a-long purposes. This is a record that will probably appeal more obsessive fans of the artists involved and adults who remember these songs as favourites from years past. However, if today’s children can take a moment out from their smoking crack and stabbing people, they’ll find a world of imagination, fun and not a little naughtiness.