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V/A - Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul

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Artist: V/A

Album: Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Oct. 19, 2007

As The Numero Group’s Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul would have it, the lesson plan the Jackson 5 prepared on “ABC” wasn’t just about the ins and outs of puppy love. It was also a blueprint for an entire sub-genre of ’70s funk and R&B.

Home Schooled isn’t the Langley Schools Music Project, in that it doesn’t offer a total recontextualization of the raw experience of childhood within the framework of very adult pop songs. Nor is it just pure bubblegum product with a novelty twist. Musically, the songs here don’t stretch much beyond generic late-’60s/early-’70s funk and soul. But that’s not an insult. Rather, the songs are built on the most infectious and easily enjoyable elements of the sound: wah-wah guitars abound, buoyed by deep, rolling basslines , and give-the-drummer-some beats and breaks. It’s a ragged send up of the Temptations, Sly & the Family Stone and, of course, the Jackson Five. Lyrically, however, the kids here are given a real opportunity to express themselves.

The album kicks off with Patrizia & Jimmy’s “Trust Your Child Pt. 1,” a “We’re a Winner” for the would-be adolescent independence movement. The duo rationally and thoughtfully demand a proprietary role in their life choices and respect for the decisions they make (“I agree that up to a certain point / You must be careful / Because your child ain’t grown / But you must realize that after a certain age / We become in the possession of a mind of our own”). It’s perhaps a tad simplistic, but it’s a sentiment many could have probably used growing up (and that groove doesn’t hurt the argument any either).

On matters of the heart, the tone is even more thoughtful. Take Promise’s “I’m No Ready for Love”: When the lead singer declares, “I’m not ready to fuss and fight / I’m not ready to cry all night / Love is a thing I’m not ready to face / So you just got to go on your way,” it’s not from the perspective of gun-shy lover on the mend, skeptical about reentering the game, but rather a young person admitting that romance is simply far too complicated to grapple with. It’s both innocent and surprisingly astute in its self-awareness. Similarly, “You Are My Dream (School Time)” by 3 Simmons offers a firsthand account of a courtship process that, though genuine, doesn’t extend too much beyond the excitement of passing glances in the schoolyard: “In the morning baby / Just a little past eight / I’ll wait for you baby / At the meeting place / I’ll carry your books and your lunch bag too.”

On another level, however, there’s something completely haunting about a child’s voice when used in the right way. The version of “Desperado” featured on the Langley Schools Music Project is one of the most devastating recordings ever made, and it’s surely not because of the images of a selfish cowboy “out drivin' fences.” Rather, it’s because the young girl who sings, Shelia Behman, cuts straight through to the feeling of utter loneliness that the song is ostensibly about. While nothing on Home Schooled quite reaches the level of that performance (and few things truly do; if you’ve never heard the recording, do yourself a favor), there are moments here that have a similar bittersweet quality, one that can only be evoked by the voice of a child. “Time,” for example, a lament to the passing seasons, is rendered both eerie and hopeful the slightly off kilter, yet oddly powerful voice of Otis the 3rd.

It’s unfair to call Home Schooled a novelty, because that takes away from its considerable charms, and detracts from some of the genuinely great funk and soul on offer here. Yet at the same time, it’s far from essential. Frankly, this is kid’s stuff; it doesn’t have the polished quality of experienced musicians and it doesn’t carry the weight and wisdom of life experience. This, however, is both the disc’s ultimate weakness and its greatest strength, for the mistakes and shortcomings of children always seem much easier to forgive and get past than the one’s made by those old enough to know better. The same can surely be said for Home Schooled.

By Nate Knaebel

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