Music
4:36 am
Sat September 7, 2013

A Children's Author Wrangles A Cowboy Soundtrack

Originally published on Sat September 7, 2013 5:11 pm

Children's book author Sandra Boynton knows her way around Music Row. We meet in singer-songwriter Ben Folds' studio, which is part of the old RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios — birthplace of recordings by the likes of Dolly Parton and Joe Cocker.

"First built by Chet Atkins and Roy Acuff in the early '60s, and as you can just tell from being here, it exudes history," Boynton says. "It's amazing the recordings that have been made here and the whole feel of the place is magical."

Boynton's affinity for recorded music brought her to studios like this in Nashville, Tenn., to create an eclectic and somewhat retro collection of country tunes for her latest CD-songbook, Frog Trouble. She recruited some of rock and country music's finest to record the songs, which find her signature animal characters getting into some new trouble.

Mark Lanegan sings the title track, which harkens back to the cowboy shows Boynton watched as a kid.

"All of us knew the theme songs to them," she says. "I actually love that sound — that cowboy frontier sound — and that era of songwriting, the sort of lure of the West."

Boynton calls bass player and session leader Viktor Krauss the spiritual and musical guide on the project.

"I love the tune 'Frog Trouble,'" Krauss says. "It paints such a picture."

His sister, bluegrass icon Alison Krauss, sings a ballad on the album. Viktor Krauss says working on kids' music allows for more freedom in the studio. Anything goes, as long as it's not too goofy.

"You're appealing to kids and you're also appealing to adults that will have to listen, because the kids want to hear it," he says. "It's very cerebral stuff."

Frog Trouble has fun layers of detail, like incorporating the four-note "My Dog Has Fleas" tune that's used to tune ukuleles at the start of Dwight Yoakum's song, "I've Got a Dog." Other collaborators on Frog Trouble include the band Fountains of Wayne, Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley and Ryan Adams.

"I had fun getting into this country world," Boynton says. "I now have boots; I've got a hat."

Even Boynton's drawings get a country makeover in the illustrated songbook that accompanies the CD. On the cover are three befuddled frogs, one of them decked in a ten-gallon cowboy hat.

"Someone asked me once, 'Why are your characters always look so perplexed but good-natured?'" Boynton says. "I guess maybe it's self-portrait in a way. I'm a little perplexed, but, I think, pretty good-natured."

Good-natured enough to share a bit of her writing process. When Boynton finishes a song, she makes a quick phone call to her partner Michael Ford. His answering machine picks up, and she sings him the lyrics and tune of the new song.

Boynton says she strives to make songs that have staying power. "I wanted to make music for kids that if you were listening to it from the next room you wouldn't know if it were for kids or adults," she says. "It's just music."

Hence the book's subtitle: "For ages 1 to older than dirt."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For years, a lot of parents have been putting their children to sleep with "The Going to Bed Book" or "Pajama Time." And now, author and illustrator Sandra Boyton's chickens, aardvarks and other animal characters are getting into some new trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MARK LANEGAN: (Singing) There's only one thing gets a cowboy down / It's the kind of trouble that we've got in this town - frog trouble...

SIMON: "Frog Trouble" is Sandra Boynton's latest CD and songbook. She's recruited some of country music's finest to record her songs. NPR's Debbie Elliott caught up with the writer-turned-music producer in, of course, Nashville.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Sandra Boynton now knows her way around Music Row. We meet in singer-songwriter Ben Folds' studio - part of the old RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios.

SANDRA BOYNTON: First built by Chet Atkins and Roy Acuff in the early '60s. And as you can just tell from being here, it exudes history. It's amazing, the recording that have been made here and the whole feel of the place is magical.

ELLIOTT: Artists ranging from Dolly Parton to Joe Cocker recorded here.

BOYNTON: You can hear the acoustics are wonderful. You know, it's just wonderful.

ELLIOTT: Boynton's affinity for recorded music brought her to studios like this in Nashville to create an eclectic and somewhat retro collection of country songs. Mark Lanegan sings the title track, "Frog Trouble." It harkens back to the cowboy shows Boynton watched as a kid.

BOYNTON: All of us knew the theme songs to them. And I actually love that sound, that cowboy frontier sound and that era of songwriting, the sort of lure of the West.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VIKTOR KRAUSS: Well, I love the tune "Frog Trouble," 'cause it paints such a picture.

ELLIOTT: That's bass player and session leader Viktor Krauss. Boynton calls him the spiritual and musical guide on the project. His sister Allison Krauss sings a ballad on the album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "END OF A SUMMER STORM")

ALLISON KRAUSS: (Singing) It's easy to be happy on a sunny day, but I often like it better when the day is gray.

ELLIOTT: Viktor Krauss says working on kids' music allows for more freedom in the studio. Anything goes, he says, as long as it's not too goofy.

V. KRAUSS: You're appealing to kids and you're also appealing to adults that will have to listen (Laughing) because the kids will want to hear it. You know, it's very cerebral stuff.

ELLIOTT: Cerebral stuff with fun layers of detail, such as including the four-note "My Dog Has Fleas" tune - that's used to tune ukuleles - at the start of Dwight Yoakum's song "I've Got a Dog."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE GOT A DOG")

DWIGHT YOAKUM: (Singing) I've got a dog and he's got me. We get along so easily. Wherever I go, he's by my side. I've got a dog. I'm satisfied.

BOYNTON: I had fun getting into this country world. And I now have boots. I've got a hat.

ELLIOTT: You kind of hit some of those great country themes. Like, we've got a dog named Hank.

BOYNTON: Yep.

ELLIOTT: We've got a mama, even though it's an alligator mama. You got a mama. You know, you got trucks.

BOYNTON: Yeah, got trucks, yeah. Well, if you're going to go classic, you want to go classic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "TRUCKS")

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) Get rolling. Big trucks and little trucks and long trucks and tall, old trucks and new trucks, delivery or long haul.

ELLIOTT: That's the band Fountains of Wayne. Other singers on "Frog Trouble" include Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley and Ryan Adams. Boynton's drawings get a country makeover in the illustrated songbook that accompanies the CD. On the cover are three befuddled frogs, one of them decked in a ten-gallon cowboy hat.

BOYNTON: I think my characters often look pretty confused to be where they are. And so these frogs look reasonably confused to be where they are. One of them has a hat on and can't quite explain it. And that's just - someone asked me once why do your characters always look so perplexed but good-natured? And I said, I guess maybe it's self-portrait in a way. I'm a little perplexed but I think pretty good-natured.

ELLIOTT: Good-natured enough to share a bit of her writing process. When Boynton finishes a song, she makes a quick phone call.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thursday, 10:53 AM.

ELLIOTT: That's her partner Michael Ford's answering machine. She's called to sing him the lyrics and tune of a new song.

BOYNTON: The next song is about alligators. (Singing) Well, I was born on a Friday in the Florida sun...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALLIGATOR STROLL")

JOSH TURNER: (Singing) ...Florida sun by the Kissimmee River and before I was one...

ELLIOTT: Josh Turner sings "Alligator Stroll" on the album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALLIGATOR STROLL")

TURNER: (Singing) Let me show you how to walk in a particular style. You take a little bit of country and some slow rock and roll. What you got going is the alligator stroll...

ELLIOTT: Boynton says she strives to make songs that have staying power.

BOYNTON: I wanted to make music for kids that if you were listening to it from the next room you wouldn't know it were for kids or adults. That's just music.

ELLIOTT: Hence the book's subtitle: for ages one to older than dirt. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

SIMON: To see and hear more of Sandra Boynton's "Frog Trouble" CD and illustrated songbook, visit our website, npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALLIGATOR STROLL")

TURNER: (Singing) Well, I was born on a Friday in the Florida sun by the Kissimmee River and before I was one...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.