an excellent review from Living Blues

Thank you to Living Blues Magazine (Scott was a subscriber at issue number one!) for this excellent review of Swamp Romp! (pictured are Johnette with drummer Doug Belote and bass player Lee Allen Zeno)

The ubiquitous, run-of-the-mill children’s music collection, with its insipid, synthesized instrumentation and tedious renditions of Old MacDonald Had a Farm and Bingo (. . . was his name-o!), has long been the bane of adult passengers on long-distance road trips. Helping to add balance to the universe, a handful of noteworthy names in the blues and folk traditions have crafted more meaningful albums for the ten-and-under age set, including Lead Belly, Taj Mahal, Keb’ Mo’ and, of course, Ella Jenkins, whose incomparable work for Smithsonian Folkways is a national treasure.

It is in that spirit that Johnette Downing and Scott Billington, both veterans of the genre, offer up Swamp Romp, a delightful collection of children’s songs that draws heavily from Louisiana and American roots traditions. In addition to their more kid-centric work, Billington was a longtime producer at Rounder Records, and the two collaborated with Bobby Rush on his recent Grammy- winning album Porcupine Meat.

Swamp Romp is billed as a “Louisiana dance party for children,” an apt subtitle for the 16 songs (all original but one) that include fun gems such as the Dixieland jazz number Who Got the Baby In the King Cake?, a Cajun adaptation of the French folk traditional J’ai Vu Le Loup, Le Renard et la Belette (“I saw the wolf, the fox and the weasel”), and Your Best Pair of Shoes, a New Orleans R&B-style groove that features Roger Lewis and Kevin Harris of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Most noteworthy, perhaps, are the harmonies between Downing and New Orleans’ own Soul Queen, Irma Thomas, on the doo-wop Poor Worry Anna.

The lyrical themes of Swamp Romp may not appeal to every (adult) Louisiana music fan, but its primary target audience— kids—will nd much to love (and dance to) here; it can also serve as their entrée to artists like Clifton Chenier, Buckwheat Zydeco and Fats Domino. As for my five-year old collaborator on this review, his initial listen elicited a somewhat ambiguous response while he was preoccupied with more pressing matters at his Lego station. Early the next morning, however, I was greeted with a very enthusiastic request for It Wasn’t Me (The Possum Song), Downing and Billington’s mambo-inflected tale of a rascal up to no good. The album has been on heavy rotation at our house ever since.

—Roger Gatchet with Wesley Gatchet

Johnette Downing