A name like Ratboy Jr. may not immediately make you think of children’s music, but make no mistake, this band is fantastic!
Based out of the musically rich Hudson Valley (home to the likes of Dog On Fleas, Gustafer Yellowgold, Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower, Uncle Rock, Story Laurie), Ratboy Jr. consists of longtime friends Tim Sutton and Matt Senzatimore. On their second album, Champions of the Universe, co-produced with neighbor and Grammy award-winning producer Dean Jones, the duo kicks it up a notch from their debut, Smorgasboard, with a more polished sound and a few musical guests (Dean Jones, Dog On Fleas, Jason Sarubbi, Shane Kirsch, as well as Sutton’s wife, Cat, and their son, Elliot).
Champions of the Universe is a goodie bag of fun filled with clever lyrics, creative storytelling, entertaining rhymes and humorous riddles. Each song invites listeners on a journey to explore artful and abstract scenarios that aim to nurture a child’s imagination which, according to Sutton, “is where the magic happens.” As the mom of a 4 year old dressed as Supergirl for the past 12 days (“because I can fly and jump higher with my cape on, mom!”), I couldn’t agree more.
The album opens with “Bill” an adventurous tale about a rock named Bill who goes against the grain. The lyrics have a nice way of expressing that it’s ok follow your own path and find what makes you happy: Bill was a rock with his own brain/ He just changed the game/ He did what he felt was right/ Other rocks knew he might/ He still slides down some hills/ But sometimes he slides up/ It’s a rock and roll lifestyle/ Bill the rock with a big old smile. I can’t help but think of Shel Silverstein’s “The Missing Piece” while listening to this song.
Moving on, Champions continues with some thought-provoking songs that speak directly to the inquiring mind of a child. “How To Eat A Cloud” floats along on a gastronomic journey suggesting what certain clouds might taste like (“stormy ones are scary but they also taste like cherry.”) “Upside Down,” a folksy pop tune, sung from a child’s perspective, questions what would happen if the world were upside down, i.e. “Would the fish fall out of the sea?/ would my pockets always be empty?”. I love when Sutton intones his own rendition of Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” for the song’s bridge.
Other songs celebrate organic ways of play. “High 5 Your Shadow,” reminiscent of Weezer’s “Buddy Holly,” promotes the idea that your shadow can be a fascinating friend while “Who Needs A Toy” transforms found objects, such as boxes and sticks(with a cautionary “just make sure you don’t poke your eye out“), into swords and rocket ships.
My daughter particularly enjoys the more interactive, quirkier songs like “Pretend Your Hand’s A Puppet,” which encourages movement, the Johnny Cash inspired “Guitar Pickin’ Chicken,” and “Backyard Camping,” an improvised camping extravaganza featuring some freestyle with members of Dog on Fleas.
While many of the songs on Champions of the Universe fall towards the quirkier side of the fold, the ideas these guys come up with are by no means contrived. The topics contained within the album are thoughts that have either been inspired by parenthood (since their debut, Sutton has become a father), their own childhood memories or simply what they think would make for interesting listening. They stand behind their music and put a ton of charisma and energy into each song. Like They Might Be Giants, Ratboy Jr. has the ability to make an interesting mark in the kindie scene. In a word (or two): they belong.
Champions of the Universe is available through all regular media outlets includingAmazon, iTunes and CDBaby. You can also hear samples from the album atRatboy Jr.’s official site. The album is just over 40 minutes and will appeal most to ages 4-8.