If there was one musician in Houston I would have bet money on going out into the world to become the next Andrew Bird that $3.50 would have gone right down on Lee Alexander. In 2009 he had an underground hit with Mayhaw Vaudeville, was being played and invited to play live all over the country, and record labels were calling him. Then, well, real life got in the way and it's been a long bit of radio silence from Mr. Alexander on the recorded work front.
Children of All Ages is a record that Alexander has been talking about for more than three years. Initially inspired by the work of Frank Zappa, Alexander was keen to try and break into the kindie music scene with songs more directed towards younger listeners.
For the most part, he has succeeded, though it can be a damned strange album at times. I would honestly call it schizophrenic in places. It opens strong with a poignant and sweet with "Hide and Seek", a touching acoustic ballad that is going right behind Yusef's "Roadsinger" in the playlist of songs I use to lull my daughter to sleep on long car rides. Tracks like this could easily be lifted from Alexander's earlier work, and serve as a nice transition for fans.
Where the album works best is in the places that Alexander manages to best mix children's song tropes like educational material with a more adult understanding of life in general. It's the expression of difficult living in the most childish and simple of terms that turns a song like "Circles" into a gem of a track. It has a slightly Schoolhouse Rock vibe, but underneath that pulses a depth of mature sadness like something from our own Linus Pauling Quartet.
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Occasionally Alexander trips off into more Laurie Berkner territory, and this is probably where he requires the most improvement. The idea of the song "All the Blues" (A straight up blues cut that jokingly discusses various shades of the color blue) is clever enough, but in actual execution it just seems to be trying a little hard. It doesn't flow as easily as "Circle", nor does it manage the unabashed comedy of his ode to the dung beetle's romantic practices.
What's very much to like about Children of All Ages is that it is clear Alexander has not lost a drop of his unique voice, or his ability to pen a devilish set of lyrics. There are moments like on "Mockingbird" that top anything on his vaulted last record. This feels very much like a new beginning for the artist, and I look forward to what he has for us in the future.
Lee Alexander releases Children of All Ages at Cactus Music on Saturday, May 24 at 11 a.m.