Uncle Stonehill's Hat
Randy Stonehill has long been known in certain circles as an enigmatic and humorous entertainer. On Uncle Stonehill's Hat, his first children's album, ol' Randy has found a creative outlet for his many stage personas.
The album itself is a narrated adventure of two snobby, rude children who visit their Uncle Stonehill (a somewhat corny Willy Wonka-ish character whose house looks like a hat) and through many adventures come to appreciate imagination and the many fine aspects of politeness. The songs themselves are quite catchy and while suited more for children do have some adiult-appeal. The dialogue, however, is often corny with exclamations such as "Earthquakes and hotcakes!" and lots and lots of puns, the overall effect of which is to limit the repeat factor for at least this "adult". Stonehill populates the adventure with many characters and voices them all, with the majority of voices unfortunately identifiable as Stonehill just doing a silly voice. Still, with fourteen songs taking up most of the album (34 of the 53 minutes) one can always program out the dialogue and enjoy the music.
Some of the better songs are "Curious", an acoustic guitar folk-pop song that encourages curiosity and sets the tone for the rest of the album and "Mouse In My House", a very simple but very catchy song about a pet mouse named "Kitty." An amazing breadth of styles ensures that even ADD children will not become bored. There's alpine ("Switzerland"), Caribbean ("Shut De Do'"), fifties rock ("Mister Snail" sung by Snailvis) and medieval minstrel ("Beans and Franks"). One of the best is the sea-chantey "Stormy Winds", a rollicking pirate song full of accordions and sung by the members of the Good Ship Tuna Melt and the Admiral Pants Daily On. Closing the album is "Valley of the Echoes", a gentle, magical lullaby reminiscent of songs from Stonehill's timeless and much more consistent Wonderama album.
Overall I'm torn. There are some very good songs and there are some very bad puns. While there is some adult appeal, most of the album leans toward the pedantic, which makes up about 98% of children's albums on the market. My own kids (Joshua, 7, and Matthew, 3) weren't grabbed on the first listen but I did catch one of them singing the "Mouse in the House" song later that day. You can get a good impression of the album contents by visiting www.unclestonehill.com and snooping around a bit.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, May 2002.