Album Review: The Superstar Sibling Detective Agency by The Swinging Belles

Sandy reviews the latest from the Juno Award-winning Kid's trio, The Swinging Belles, and has her children weigh in.

Parenthood is supposed to transform us into better human beings, with a seemingly unavoidable worse taste in music. Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang … are traded in for Old Macdonald Had a Farm, and Wheels on the Bus, until one day anthropomorphised insects singing The Beatles makes perfect sense.

While I’ve never expected my young children to cheer for the Bronte sisters over Goodnight Moon at bedtime, music is one area where I’ve stubbornly refused to acquiesce.

But how to bridge the gap between Blood on the Tracks and Baa Baa Black Sheep? Enter The Swinging Belles, and their new album The Superstar Sibling Detective Agency. The Swinging Belles, for anyone unfamiliar, are an energetic Juno award winning swing band for kids. Erin Power and Laura Winter are the group’s cheerful and animated vocalists and storytellers.

They sing songs about the importance of dusting yourself off, having a positive attitude, and valuing your friends, with all the sweetness of Julie Andrews assigning you homework, which makes sense given that Power and Winter can both be found teaching primary school when not performing as The Belles.

The Swinging Belles make music for children first and foremost, but there’s enjoyment for parents that extends beyond watching your kids’ avant garde dance moves. Swinging Belles guitarist Duane Andrews is an extraordinary musician who combines traditional Newfoundland music with Manouche gypsy jazz in the style of Django Reinhardt, and it’s his musicianship that really helps to bridge the gap between parents and children.

The Swinging Belles make music for children first and foremost, but there’s enjoyment for parents that extends beyond watching your kids’ avant garde dance moves.

The combination of Power, Winter, and Andrews has been winning over multi-generational fans since their 2015 debut More Sheep, Less Sleep, which culminated in the 2016 Juno for Children’s Album of the Year. The Swinging Belles maintain, and even expand their energetic swing-jazz sound with their new release The Superstar Sibling Detective Agency.

Enlisting the help of good friends The Once, Patrick Boyle, Greg Bruce, Curtis Andrews, Kathy Conway Ward and Andrew Cooper, the album is a dash of Dolly Parton’s The Grass is Blue, The McGarrigle Sisters’ Log Driver’s Waltz, The Triplets of Belleville, and the Quintette du Hot Club de France.

Putting the Tunes to the Kids' Test

In any case, what have the children got to say about it? My test-subjects, Jules and Anouk, are really the best positioned to review The Superstar Sibling Detective Agency.

Jules didn’t say much, but bounced wildly in his rocker until passing out. Anouk, the more thoughtful critic of the two, gave the album high praise, and enthusiastically singled out “Sea Creatures Ball,” “All the Dogs,” “Fly,” and “Brightest on the Heart” as some of her favourites. (Fans of bluegrass artist Old Man Luedecke will recognize this last track as a cover off his 2015 album Domestic Eccentric).

All in all, The Superstar Sibling Detective Agency is an enjoyable combination of good messages, good humour, and good music. The energetic and participatory nature of the group’s live performances shines through, and ultimately shows that it is indeed possible for music made for children to be entertaining and engaging for all.

Hot off their performance at La Semaine Acadienne in Courseulles sur Mer, France, The Swinging Belles will host the official launch party of The Superstar Sibling Detective Agency in a grand Carnival-style extravaganza, at The Lantern on October 13th. Stay tuned for ticket details!

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