I have been involved with children’s music for more than 20 years and if I had to name my favorite children’s music artists, Gunnar Madsen would certainly be in the top three—and probably number one. Many of you might be scratching your head right now wondering who Gunnar Madsen is and why you are not aware of him.
It really came as a surprise to me when I first realized that Madsen’s newest family-style music recording, "I’m Growing," is his first release since his critically acclaimed "Ants In My Pants" in 2001.
Lots has happened with Madsen in the past seven years and his fans were left to imagine what kind of album he would make now that he has become a proud parent. It is clear to everyone who heard his first two releases (his debut "Old Mr. Mackle Hackle" was released in 1999) that Madsen is a gifted and talented artist whose recordings set the standard for all other children’s music artists.
The fact that he doesn’t release an album every year so that there is always something "new" to promote is of no real concern to Madsen. He is an artist in the best sense of the word. It is that "less is more" way of approaching music making—a strategy I wish more artists practiced.
As the cliché goes, it was well worth the wait. Once again, Madsen shines as he offers up a diverse and tasty set of songs with "I’m Growing." No wonder because Madsen is truly a triple threat. First of all, he is a great instrumental musician. He plays almost all of the instruments on the CD from guitars and piano to accordion and percussion. Secondly, he is one of those rare singers blessed with a toolbox full of stylistic voices that is, in all honesty, incomparable. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, Madsen is a songwriter extraordinaire. He understands that good songwriters are good storytellers. And to be completely honest, Madsen is really a quadruple threat because his production sensibilities are exquisite. You will notice all of these traits within the first minute of the first song, which catapults you into a festive flight of wonderfully joyous songs.
As I sat down and listened to Madsen’s new CD again I realized that I could single out each song and tell you what makes each one remarkable. And those of you who frequently read this column know I often struggle with the idea of painting a picture of music with words, but I’ll give it a try. Here are a few of the gems you will find on "I’m Growing."
"Pumpkin Hair" is like an old folk song rejuvenated with a ‘50’s kind of early rockabilly feel (due partly to the saxophone licks) infused with rhythmic uncertainties and humorous word play that will even make adults chuckle.
And I’m not sure what Madsen was thinking about when he wrote "Walkin’ Back to Texas" but the first time I heard it I thought it well suited for President Bush.
Maybe my favorite is "Cutest Little Guy," which opens with Madsen singing "He’s the cutest little guy I ever did see/a little like his momma and a lot like me." You’ll be singing along before the song is over.
What I like most about Madsen’s family-style music is that, as one reviewer pointed out, "the songs really aren’t kids’ songs—there’s nary a song here about the first day of school or learning your alphabet." Madsen is content to leave that to other folks.
Visit Madsen’s Web site (www.gunnarmadsen.com) where you can listen to each song from "I’m Growing." And be sure to check out his first two "family-style music" recordings, too. You won’t be disappointed. I promise!
Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, recording artist and producer. His Web site, BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children’s music. E-mail him at email@example.com.