With bluegrass music programs at high schools and universities across the country, initiatives such as the Foundation for Bluegrass Music’s Bluegrass in the Schools, and various local organizations which sponsor lessons and bands for young children, it’s no surprise that a bluegrass band has created an album specifically targeting children. Brooklyn-based group Astrograss has recently released The Colored Pencil Factory, a collection of imaginative originals and tunes from the old-time tradition.
Each of the members of Astrograss has a background in music education, and while they also perform as a regular, ‘adult’ band, the group has been presenting programs specifically for children since 2005. The Colored Pencil Factory is their second kid-oriented album, and features a wide variety of influences, including an Albanian accordion player, poet Shel Silverstein, and even some of the kids the band has played for in the past.
Throughout the album, Astrograss encourages imagination and creativity. In the opening track, Make It Up, listeners are urged to use their minds to create stories and games, while Playground shows the fun that can be had by experiencing outdoor play. The title track compares colors to making the most out of life, and includes vivid images that will appeal to kids such as “I want to see pink in a Popsicle sunrise.” Continental Geography introduces some basic geography skills and speaks of all the fun locations to visit around the globe. Grave Diagnosis is an amusing tune which features a mother and son discussing the son’s various ailments which he claims are preventing him from going to school.
A few traditional numbers are included, as well. Sawing on the Strings is upbeat and cheerful, while Shortenin’ Bread is swingy and bluesy. Fans of old-time music will enjoy Cluck Old Hen and Sail Away Ladies, which are among the most traditional sounding on the album. Fiddle player Sarah Alden offers enthusiastic, energetic lead vocals on each of these tracks.
Overall, the band offers an upbeat mixture of folk and modern bluegrass, with catchy, sometimes humorous original lyrics with which kids can easily sing along. In listening to The Colored Pencil Factory, it’s easy to see how band members Alden (fiddle), Dennis Lichtman (mandolin), Jonah Bruno (banjo), Jordan Shapiro (guitar), and Tim Kiah (bass) make traditional music fun for children. Parents and educators who are looking for a kid-friendly way to introduce young children to bluegrass music may want to consider checking out this album and band.
The band not only performs at private events but also at schools, in which they play songs, discuss the history of bluegrass music, and invite students to write poetry which the band will then set to music. For more information on Astrograss, their music, and their children’s programs, visit their website at www.astrograssmusic.com.
Their new album can be purchased from their website, as well as several online music retailers.