Getting surgery on a torn meniscus was really a decision taken out of my hands (or more precisely, my knee). Luckily I had a stack of warm, friendly, comforting kid’s CDs to keep me company as I limped around like James Caan in Misery. On the top of the pile was the brand-new release from San Francisco’s Frances England, Blue Skies and Sunny Days. In my estimation, you can’t go wrong with Ms. England. Frances is a kindie Regina Spektor, with a distinctive sound that separates her from the rest of the pack.
Blue Skies and Sunny Days is an eight-track in the modern sense, in that there are eight songs. It’s also a throwback to the previous eight-track player era, with a 1970s SoCal sound that wouldn’t be out of place in rotation with Jackson Browne, the Eagles, and Linda Ronstadt. That feel seems almost intentional, given that the disc was co-helmed by über-producer Dean Jones.
The laid-back sound of Blue Skies and Sunny Days should act as a soothing tonic to our times, according to Frances. “I hope these songs provide an antidote to all the bad news out there,” as she’s quoted in the press release. And for the 24-minute duration of the CD, Frances makes good on her promise. “Not Just My Sister” is an ode to the bond between siblings of all ages. “Carefree” even name-checks the founding fathers of good-time surf music:
Windows down with the radio on
Switching up the stations ’til we find a good song
Then the Beach Boys start singing
And “Good Vibrations” are ringing
The disc continues with the finger-snapping “Good Day” and a cover version of Cat Stevens’ “If You Want to Sing Out” with Dan Lebowitz, known for playing with left coast artists Phil Lesh (remember him) and Jack Johnson. You want more? But wait! There’s a console-your-kid ditty, “Mama Said,” and the sigh-inducing siesta doo-wop, “Perfect Afternoon Afternoon.” Frances closes out with an acoustic parental overview, “Watching You Grow,” which intones “I feel so proud it’s hard to measure/A love so big, so deep, forever.” I can already imagine Frances closing her shows with a sing-along version, where the kids curiously assay their teary-eyed parents.
It’s the rare children’s CD that ends and I realize, “Oh wait, that was it?” Blue Skies and Sunny Days is more like a sprint than a marathon. It’s the equivalent to the dog days of summer, when it feels like sunset happens quicker and faster each day as going back to school gets closer and sooner. In the meantime, Frances England provides some smiles and rhythms, if not necessarily dance tunes. And until I get done with physical therapy, that’s exactly what I’ve been longing for.
Here is a video of Frances England singing “Mind of My Own” at the Long Island Children’s Museum last year: