Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Album Review: Smile - Mr. Steve & Miss Katie

Smile is the new album from the very talented Mr. Steve & Miss Katie, aka Steve and Katie Piperno.  The album features eleven songs that are literally saturated with melody, and have a brightness and clarity of purpose second to none. The duo also write and produce all their songs, which is some achievement these days.  Interestingly it is the CD sleeve which sets the tone for what is in store, with the band, in Pied Piper fashion, leading a variety of exotic animals on a musical journey to an unknown destination.  It is a journey of imagination and intrigue in anticipation of the magical and musical treats that lie ahead.

The album kicks off with the movement song “I Love Trains", a song that is both catchy and great fun to sing along to. It would also be a useful asset for any teachers looking for a suitable movement song to use in the classroom.  You can almost visualize the children moving in time to the music as the rhythm punctuates a really captivating melody.  The track also features a variety of instrumentation, including a brass section, adding further vibrancy to the overall pop sound on display. 

Continuing on the theme of movement, “Everybody Get Movin’” is a real foot stomper as we hear the artist emphatically declare how he wants  ‘to get up early and see the big sun rise’. The sound is literally sweltering in optimism, with an intoxicating feel-good factor throughout.  It also has an interesting swing feel, with the sound of brass punctuating the vocal delivery very effectively. The harmonies are wonderful, and the tune is infectious.

“The Clean Up Song” is another teacher friendly track, which celebrates the fun involved in making a mess, as well as the process of cleaning up, which with the right attitude can be ‘twice as fun’.  We are then transported to the “Deep Blue Sea”, with a song that captures a somewhat Jamaican feel throughout.  Here Katie Piperno delivers her crystal clear vocal through lyrics that explore the sights that surround us on this fantastic voyage, giving the listener a more profoundly visual experience.

“If I Had A Farm” ponders a visit to the countryside, with a melancholy violin accompanying the vocal introduction.  There is space here for the children to interact, as they are encouraged to do a number of animal impersonations, in what could be described as “Old Macdonald” for the twenty-first century.  “All Around The World” has a more ambitious schedule, as we visit a host of interesting countries and are taught how to say hello in different languages.  The chorus is superb, and is a kind of all-inclusive sing along.

The title track, “Smile”, provides a gentle change of pace, with the use of a shuffle beat, a harmonica and a lazy vocal to give the impression that the day has just begun.  Again the song benefits from an uplifting chorus, and when Steve Piperno sings ‘it makes the world brighter when you smile’, you can’t help but agree.  “Hands Up In The Air” re-establishes the theme of movement, inviting the listener to participate in a variety of actions.  Whether it is stomping your feet, or doing a silly dance, the point is that when you move it can only make you feel better.

“It’s Snowing Now” provides a musical backdrop to the eagerly anticipated arrival of Christmas.  With a musical description of the beautiful impression snow makes on the landscape.  It also describes the special feelings and joy Christmas brings, from reunion with family to the arrival of Santa.  The “Goodnight Song” is surprisingly up-tempo, as the duo bid goodnight to the various items surrounding them.  The song incorporates a lively country feel, setting the listener up nicely for the final track on the album “Lullaby”.

Now I know that putting a lullaby at the end of a children’s album tends to be a bit of a cliché these days, but nonetheless, the song is beautifully sung and also benefits from the inclusion of strings and a hypnotic piano.  It is safe to say the song would be ideal to serenade a child off to sleep, although I might add, that if Brian Eno wrote a lullaby song for kids I would guess it might sound something like this.

On this form I expect to be hearing a lot more from Mr. Steve & Miss Katie.  The songs are simplistic enough to sound appealing, and yet sophisticated enough to sound interesting. A simple message, with a lively melody, delivered with some enthusiastic harmonies throughout appears to be the order of the day.  The songs are engaging and would suit a number of educational themes.  Furthermore, the lyrics leave the listener feeling more optimistic and energized as the songs literally make you smile when you hear them.  Which I guess is what the artists set out to do in the first place.

Mr. Steve & Miss Katie’s Smile – the time to be happy is now.