“I love it. I think it’s the best thing since Coltrane.” -Steve Feldman, Owner of Sam Hill Group/Emmy Award-winning TV Director (Sesame Street, Nick News, TheWubbulous World of Dr. Seuss) & Dad
“I love what Chris & Katy are bringing to the table with Coal Train Railroad. It makes ME feel like a kid again! I think children of all ages will love the humor, silliness and the catchy, cool, and crazy music that reminds us all that music should be fun to listen to. I’m honored (and slightly tickled) to be part of this wonderful project. Thanks!” -Jeff Coffin, 3-time Grammy Winning Saxophonist/Composer (Dave Matthews Band, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, The Jeff Coffin Mu’tet) & Dad
“With Coal Train, Katy Bowser and Chris Donohue have done the seemingly impossible – they’ve produced a record that is as catchy and well crafted as it is charming and loved by my 2 year old son and 7 month old daughter. In a market where the most wildly popular children’s music is almost unlistenable after repeat listens by parents, Coal Train is a record that this daddy (and mommy) put on the stereo well after the little ones are in bed. A great record is a great record, regardless who it’s made for.” Derek Webb, Songwriter/Performer & Daddy of Rhodes and Carter
“Coal Train Railroad is a wonderful age-appropriate vehicle for transporting young children into the world of jazz.” -Mary Ann Dudko, Ph.D., Children’s Media Educational Consultant
“It’s great to see kid’s entertainment delivered with such sophistication and originality. CTRR really celebrates the artist in all children.” -Tito Ortiz, Director of Development, Illumination Entertainment (Ice Age, Despicable Me)
“My toddler is rocking out to Coal Train Railroad! This is fantastic. Thanks so much!!” -Katherine Pershing, mom
“I am a HUGE fan of Coal Train Railroad!! It’s NOT “Hard to Listen” when you’re playin’ these tunes! I’m using the CD in my music classes and therapy sessions – “My Mouth and Me” is perfect for working on speech. ALL of the songs are so fun and clever… I know I’ll still be playing it and singing right along even when the kids aren’t around!” -Breianne McKinley, Music Therapist at Little Steps Music
“If you want your kid to be cool when they grow up stick COAL TRAIN RAILROAD in the minivan iPod dock when taking the family vacation this year! While super catchy, packed with energy, full of fun feel-good runs, riffs, and sounds, COAL TRAIN RAILROAD is educational and pays homage to some of the jazz greats.” -Brooke Waggoner, Songwriter/Performer
“My 5 year old has insisted that she listen to Coal Train Railroad every night before bed this week. Last night I giggled when I went in to re-tuck her in and discovered that she had changed the “repeat all” to just “repeat” when “I need a nap” came on. Thanks for such a wonderful CD!” -Sarah Penn, Mom
“Thank you for steppin’ it up for the little people! Our first few hours of CTRR have made our kids much cooler! Coolness… a very important, and often overlooked quality many parents forget to incorporate in the raising of their young. With CTRR any parent can instantly accelerate their progeny to maximum coolocity…” -Dave Hoffman, Owner of LA Voiceovers & Dad
“Quirky, cool, and touching in all the right ways. In the tradition of classic children’s songs and stories, this record is for everyone – moms, dads, musicians, and of course KIDS.”
-Neilson Hubbard, Producer/Songwriter
“Just ordered two. So excited to expose my nieces to this great music!!!!!” -Janna Roper, Aunt
“My kidlets & I love, love, LOVE Coal Train Railroad, at least the 2 songs we have heard over & over!! Can’t wait for the rest!!” -Anne Dye, Mom
“All them notes is nutritious for them little noggins!” -Scott Hallgren, Pianist/Composer & Dad
“I wanna jump on the Coal Train and ride ride, ride! The best jazz children’s songs I’ve ever heard!”
-Julie Lee, Songwriter/Performer
“Best kids record of the year!” -John Thompson, recording artist and Director, Creative and Copyright Development at EMI CMG Publishing
“I just got my copy and put it on for my 8 month old and he stopped in his tracks and just listened…he LOVES his Coal Train Railroad cd!” -Mendy Goebel, mom
“Just wanted to give this two major thumbs up! My kids listened to this non-stop for months. And that was OK with us because it’s great music! Seriously get one for all kiddos on the holiday list.” -Carole Baker, mom
“I love that Coal Train has such great lyrics mixed with wonderful jazz! It just makes me happy every time I listen to it. I bought five to give away and found I had to keep one for myself and ordered more for all the teachers in my life! What a wonderful CD you have produced!!!” -Terry Sue Fennig, mom
“How fun and wonderful and really good music! I’ll buy these for my preschool classes and other wonderful children I know!” Julie Duemler, teacher
“The jazz combo Coal Train Railroad–Katy Bowser, Chris Donohue, and a rotating cast of exceedingly talented instrumentalists–works on the very assumption that jazz is great music for kids. More to the point, they demonstrate that jazz and kids are a natural combination. Their new record, Coal Train Railroad Swings, releases today. Musically, this is the real deal. Inspired by traditional swing jazz and seasoned with a dash of polka and a little bit of Tom Waits, the musicianship is stellar. Katy Bowser’s vocals are a miracle–expressive and very fun, but also technically astonishing. She performs a vocal run at the end of “Get My Wiggles Out” that is positively pyrotechnic. One wonders if she could possibly do it the same way twice.
That’s Coal Train Railroad Swings! for you: genuine virtuosity in the service of a song about getting one’s wiggles out. The same virtuosity is exercised in songs about going to the pool, leaving a lunch bag out in the rain, suffering from the common cold (“I Hab a Code”), and getting dirty (of dirt, Katy asks, “What am I supposed to do? This stuff is everywhere!”).
The subject matter is perfectly relevant to the toddler set, but there is no condescension here. I have heard Katy Bowser speak of “inviting children into the conversation” with her art. To put it another way, Coal Train Railroad says to kids, “Jazz is your music too.” Indeed, in many ways, children are more ready for jazz than adults. For a baby learning to speak, talking is a lot like scat-singing. A baby plays with the sounds and rhythms of words before he knows exactly what to do with their meanings. Katy tells of her baby daughter Story’s ongoing riffs on the words “broccoli” (“bockly”) and “book,” repeating them over and over with different intonations and pronunciations and cadences.
The great revelation of Coal Train Railroad’s music is that jazz, which seems urbane, highbrow, and frankly intimidating to many grownups, can be entirely accessible. I don’t even own a turtleneck, but still I love this music. Watching my own children enjoy Coal Train Railroad Swings! has reminded me that jazz, that great American form, is my music too.” – Jonathan Rogers / www.rabbitroom.com
“Coal Train Railroad have made the best jazz album for kids that I’ve ever heard. Katy Bowser’s voice is questionably great and the playing of Chris Donohue, et al. is outstanding throughout the 9 tracks, and with all that their Coal Train Railroad CD has everything you want from a jazz record – it’s snappy, cool and classy. It also has some characteristics you may not expect from, or generally associate with, a fine jazz album; songs that are funny and charming, and with lyrical content most children will have a context for (juice, bellybuttons, snuggling, nap time, and a budding independence).
Despite coming from an indie rock background, Coal Train Railroad’s debut disc is, in many ways, the album I’ve been waiting for since starting OWTK 3.5 years ago. It’s a CD I can spin during a dinner party, at nap time, in the car, with or without the kids around, during the girl’s bath time – pretty much at any time of day or night and in anyone’s company.
In other words, it’s versatile and beautiful. I absolutely love this album.” - Jeff Bogle / Out With The Kids (www.owtk.com)
Coal Train Railroad CD Release at Ugly Mugs: Boppin’ Tots
There was a time not long ago when the world of children’s music was its own singular hell, inhabited by syrupy lyrics, cloying melodies and purple dinosaurs. But with the birth of the “not for kids only” music movement, spearheaded by the likes of They Might Be Giants, Dan Zanes and Nashville’s own “Farmer” Jason Ringenberg, parents no longer have to fear going postal on the three-hour drive to Grandma’s. While those artists blend child-friendly lyrical concepts with eminently listenable rock and folk music, The Coal Train Players have ventured into less charted territory—a jazz children’s record.
At first blush you might think jazz’s sophistication would be a poor fit for kids, but listen to just a few minutes of Coal Train Railroad and it’s clear the genre’s whimsical and spontaneous nature is perfect fit for a child’s still-unbounded imagination. Featuring a wide array of styles—from bluesy shout-alongs, swing and bossa nova to the Victrola-worthy old-time jump of “Bellybutton Stays the Same”—the disc provides a musical as well as lyrical education. The brainchild of singer Katy Bowser and bassist Chris Donohue (Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller), who together co-wrote all of the songs, Coal Train Railroad also features some of Nashville’s heaviest hitters, including saxophonist Jeff Coffin and trumpeter Rod McGaha. Initial reaction has been so positive that Bowser and Donohue are in talks with a children’s-TV veteran about expanding the concept into an animated kids’ series—stay, uh, tuned. -Jack Silverman
“Continuing in the grand tradition of great jazz music for kids like A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Peanuts specials, Katy and Chris have made a record with some of the best jazz players in Nashville with lyrics that kids – and adults – will love to sing along with.” -Stephen Lamb
“Buy one for each child in your life. If there are no children in your life, get a new life.” Denis Haack, Editor of Critique Magazine & Dad
“This CD definitely fits into the category of “music your kids will love and you’ll enjoy too.” It’s a lot of fun, and my 1.5 year old is already asking for “Coal train! Coal Train! Coal Train!” after just a couple spins.
Musically, the main stream the album seems to be wading in is straight ahead small combo style jazz, ala the first Miles Davis quintet, but it playfully explores other tributaries from the history of the genre, using older and newer styles of jazz to broaden it, keep melody central, and keep it accessible. The band is playful, competent, tight and fun. The songs cook, swing, simmer, jam and jump. Jazz enthusiasts will smile at the syncopation, creative melodies and hooks, and various homages throughout the disc, while everyone else will tap their feet, dance, and/or sing along.
Beyond the band, what really makes the Coal Train are the lyrics and vocal performance by the singer. She’s great–got loads of soul and a sense of wild fun in her delivery that brings the songs to life. The lyrics are as fun as the music, about various kid experiences like snuggling, napping, and drinking juice. They take a “kid’s view of the world” approach to those experiences without condescending. For example, the bluesy “It’s Hard to Listen” doesn’t offer any closure to this common childhood dilemma–just like a more “adult” blues song wouldn’t resolve its dilemmas. The standout track for me, and I think for most people, is “My Mouth and Me”, a song that celebrates the fun of making noise while also introducing the concepts of improvization and the sounds of the band. But seriously, the whole disc is fun, so it’s hard to name a standout. The lyrics are clever and will ring true, and the delivery of said lyrics only adds to the fun and the “truthfulness” of the experiences the lyrics describe.
Age-wise, the lyrics target audience is toddlers and their parents. Since the songs don’t condescend and the music is interesting and fun, though, those toddlers who grew up with it will probably return to it as they’re older. That is, despite the specifics of some of the songs (throwing tantrums when you don’t get a nap, being required to hold someone’s hand or put down a fragile object), the themes are pretty universal (who doesn’t love snuggling in clothes fresh out of the dryer?), and older kids will still identify with the experiences even if the songs aren’t “for them” anymore. This is baby music that isn’t babyish.
Point of comparisons: This album belongs on the shelf with Let’s Go Everywhere (Dig), in that it’s creative, jazzy, and intelligent music for kids and their parents, with lyrics from the child’s perspective. They both have their strengths over the other and I recommend both. But if I had to pick a favorite, I’d pick Coal Train. Simply put, lyrically, this just comes by its “kid perspective” more naturally. It’s like it’s trying less hard to be relevant and just is more relevant. The album is shorter, but the benefit is that musically it is less self-indulgent. It delivers tight, fun, accessible but no less interesting songs. The album doesn’t have the burden of “we’re an established band, we have to make it sound like MMW” so it can just cut to the chase and bring the tight, fun songs. (The MMW album wins in the following categories, though: It’s MMW, it has songs about pirates, and the title track is awesome.)
Hope that helps. My family loves it, hope you do too. Please buy it. Maybe they’ll make more.”
As the mother of two very active, loud, silly little boys, I must say that this is my new hands-down-favorite kids album. The songs are super fun, the lead singer is so talented (I wish I could sound like her when we’re all singing along!), the music supports the song themes extremely well, and the lyrics – well, it’s like she’s been living in my house and spying on my family. Why, yes, I do need that nap – I AM cranky like a crocodile and terribly rude! Plus my boys can really relate to the songs – they think some of them are just hysterical.
Give it a listen and you’ll hear, there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. Plunk down your nickels to buy this record, you won’t regret it.
Katy and crew – we want MORE Coal Train Railroad!! Maybe if everyone reading this will buy the CD for all their friends and family, and make it the birthday gift of choice (great for parents and kiddos!), etc then the train will keep chugging along and you can all make us some more! Whoo-wooo!
“Well, let’s be honest. I work on a regular basis with Chris Donohue, who produced this wonderful project, so, I suppose I have my bias. But in a town like Nashville, where musicians are as plentiful as leaves on trees, I’m certainly not going to waste my time with musicians who are anything less than brilliant, and Chris has proven his brilliance on this beautiful recording for children, “Coal Train Railroad”.
If you missed the pun, Coal Train acknowledges the great John Coltrane, and certainly this recording is a wonderful way to introduce children to the world of Jazz.
Chris and his collaborator Katy Bowser have come up with a recording for youngsters that is hip and liberating and zany without being condescending, annoying, or forced. My girls are all grown up now, but I remember buying them things that were supposedly tailor-made for their age group when they were 2 and 3 years old, and they were savvy enough to recognize trash. I remember my older daughter pleading “turn that off!!” when we tried one of our kids’ cassettes for the first time (yes, cassette!). This is a well-written, wonderfully conceived project, played by world-class musicians, recorded by world-class engineers. Kudos, Coal Train”! -Session musician, songwriter and producer Phil Madeira
“The music on this album reveals fine talent and skill that everyone can enjoy: every time I listen to it, I’m newly amazed by the stellar musicianship on every song. This isn’t great children’s music; it’s just great music that kids happen to really like. Our three-year-old loves it, and so do we. Very unusual to find kid’s music that’s silly and plain and funky that adults don’t just put up with but actually enjoy. The lyrics and melodies are expertly composed, and I find myself suddenly singing about my bellybutton in all kinds of places now. Delightful. The only problem now is that our son gets very upset when I sing along–because he just wants to listen. I can’t recommend this more highly, then–for content and craft. It will train your kids to love good music, and it will give you good tunes for the mundane moments of the day.”
“Other reviewers have already written lovely things about the musicianship, lyrics, and overall greatness of this CD – to which I will add my full and wholehearted agreement. The reason I personally love this album is that it takes a genre which is typically found in swanky lounges or wine bars and puts it in the context of family life with young children. I am as clueless about jazz as my two-year-old and four-year-old, but together we are all discovering how fun, surprising, and beautiful it can be. I can’t recommend this CD highly enough for families with kids of all ages!”
“My 3 year old loves to sing along to this record. As a dad, I’m glad there’s some non-annoying kids music that we can share together. Don’t cherrypick tracks- get the whole thing!
I gave this album to several friends this Christmas. Everyone loves it! You will not view your belly button or your mouth the same way after listening!”
“We have been listening to this CD non-stop since it entered our home. My 8 year old sings the Coal Train songs wherever she goes and my 2 year old rocks out alongside her. My husband and I love it as well (which is a major bonus since we have to hear it on repeat play!) I also love that it is such high-quality, professional jazz- these are great musicians and a singer with an incredible voice. We gave this CD for Christmas to everyone we know with kids- it’s been a huge hit!”
“First thing to say about this album is that the music shows fine talent and skill for everyone to enjoy. I wouldn’t call it great children’s music. Instead, I’d call it great music that kids happen to really like. Our three year old loves it, and so do we…and we gave it as Christmas gifts to all our friends because it’s such a staple for us now. Very unusual to find a kid’s CD that’s silly and plain funky that adult don’t just put up with but actually enjoy. The lyrics and melodies are expertly composed, and I find myself singing about my bellybutton in all kinds of places now. Delightful.”