Colonel Tom and the Loose Cannons with the Backstabbers at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Friday (September 12). $7. 416-763-9139. Rating: NNNNN
while a few children's records released over the years have found an adult audience - the delightfully demented electro jams Bruce Haack created with Miss Nelson for the Dimension 5 label come to mind - the majority are virtually unlistenable for anyone who's been through puberty. If you've ever sat through one of Barney's mind-numbing singalongs, you'll understand where I'm coming from. Colonel Tom Parker of the Backstabbers country string band knows all about the shortcomings of the genre, since his day job is teaching music in kindergarten-to-grade-6 classes at Roden Public School.
While searching for appropriate school activity songs that wouldn't drive him insane, it occurred to Parker that the traditional tunes he knew from childhood weren't all that different from the regular Backstabbers' repertoire - well, except for the drinking songs and bloody murder ballads.
So coming up with a selection of traditional numbers that would be appropriate for a younger demographic - namely Old King Coul, Come My Little Roving Sailor, I Rode A Big Horse - wasn't much of a stretch. In fact, the lead track on Colonel Tom and the Loose Cannons' Songs For The Young'uns (Run Mountain) disc is Pretty Little Girl (With The Red Dress On), which Parker has been singing in a goofy falsetto with the Backstabbers set as long as I can remember.
It's Parker's decision to choose songs that don't talk down to his audience, whatever age they happen to be, which makes Songs For The Young'uns much less annoying than your average kids' disc.
"Teaching nine classes a day gives me a good sense of what's going to work with a younger crowd," says Parker from his Toronto home. "Kids are good critics. They let you know really quick whether they like a song or not. And if they don't like the words or the melody, they just won't sing along."
Since many of the songs date back to a time before political correctness was an issue, there are some lyrics that could be cause for concern. But while Parker is sensitive to the potential problems, he doesn't avoid songs that touch on the sometimes harsh realities of the real world.
"Traditional music is all about life, and life isn't necessarily politically correct. In making a record with kids in mind, I didn't want to include songs with an element of meanness or anything that might lead to bullying.
"But still, there is some death involved - a bear gets shot, a pig burns down a house, and a little fox kills some geese to feed his family. But kids don't make a big deal out of it, and I don't see a need to try to hide that side of life from them."
Although Parker has played the tunes from Songs For The Young'uns for mixed audiences at the Calgary Folk Fest, the release party Friday (September 12) will be the first airing for a grown-up Toronto crowd. He doesn't seem the least bit worried about how the new material will go over.
"These are all upbeat songs made for dancing that trade in the same universal themes that the Backstabbers' songs deal with.
"And besides," chuckles Parker, "the adults drink so much at our shows, they all end up acting like children anyway."