Eleven albums into his children's recording career, Ben Rudnick took a turn.
I know that sounds ominous, but I mean it in the most positive way. Rudnick and Friends have taken (some would say "repurposed") songs from his oeuvre and worked them into the soundtrack for a musical for children, A FROG NAMED SAM. An oft-requested Rudnick favorite, Australian playwright Augusta Supple was enlisted to spin this yarn.
Rudnick and Friends have carved a niche as a kid's jam band, hence the copious references to the Grateful Dead (although every time he whips out a harmonica, like on "When Something's Got You Terribly Blue," I think of Dan Zanes). A soundtrack is different from a concept album in that everything is neatly explained on the latter. Without liner notes (or an attached public relations note), A FROG NAMED SAM comes across as a decent collection of Rudnick tunes, some previously heard and enjoyed. "Macaroni and Cheese" and "Love Is a Superpower" bring back pleasant memories of past CDs. The band clearly relishes the opportunity to deliver alternate takes on the older songs (anybody read for a Dead callback?).
Briefly, the title character is a world-weary rock star who returns home to find his pond nearly waterless and populated by a three-eyed alien named Tripp. The duo decide to investigate what has caused the disrepair. In between, there's the country-fied "Where's My Horse," with a clip-clop beat and violin and "I Got a New Friend (He's an Alien)." Yes, a southern rural hoedown that brings extraterrestrials to the inclusion table. The disc wraps with a bonus track (which means it's not part of the overall theme of the musical) "Coney Island Crazy," a straight rock closer for Rudnick.
Rudnick and bandmates John and Chris Zevos and Jared Steer stick mostly to the New England area, although they did visit Symphony Space earlier this year and they return to Manhattan on January 16 at Brookfield Place. The tightly-honed quartet also tightly knits its identity to their region. Yet their sound is pure Americana, harkening back to Fourth of July boardwalk entertainment and county fairs. There's a summer feel. And with a genuine alien character, A FROG NAMED SAM is literally out of this world.
A FROG NAMED SAM is available January 22 (pre-order it) from Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.
Here is the video from "I Got a New Friend":