Various Artists

Fuzzy-Felt Folk

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The wonderful U.K.-based archival label Trunk Records, which also released the similarly bizarre yet familiar-feeling collection of '60s and '70s advertising music Music for Biscuits, gives the same loving collector's treatment to children's music of that era with Fuzzy-Felt Folk. Fuzzy-Felt is a British toy series of felt cutouts that can be used to make pictures (basically, the fabric equivalent of Colorforms). The album's artwork comes from the 1968 set Fuzzy-Felt Fantasy, and really says it all about the music inside: it's undeniably cute, even cuddly, but with a whimsy that can become spooky at a moment's notice. Like all of Trunk's compilations, Fuzzy-Felt Folk's appeal goes way beyond its (considerable) nostalgia value -- this innocently trippy music sounds fresh, perhaps because of its very strangeness. Many of the tracks here are incredibly rare, and while every song is delightful, the middle stretch of Fuzzy-Felt Folk really captures what makes its psychedelic folk for kids so special. "Cuckoo" is one of several songs on the collection by the Barbara Moore Singers, all of which were created with children's movement classes in mind. Its lilting clarinets and flutes and cheery vocal harmonies were made for skipping, swaying to and fro, or maybe a very orchestrated game of hide-and-seek. "Spin Spider Spin" by Peggy Zeitlin (one of a handful of American artists on the collection) is a simple but memorable singalong that's more purely folk, offering a slightly moodier take on the acoustic-based children's music that dominated the '60s and '70s. Two of the album's best and most obscure songs come from Orriel Smith: "Winds of Space" and "Tiffany Glass" were culled from the BBC's singles library before the broadcasting company sold off some of its oldest 7"s. "Winds of Space" -- which seems to be a lullaby for the universe -- isn't just the strangest song on the album, it's light years away from any other children's music. A poem set to music, it's remarkably free-form and forward-thinking, even by the standards of the time. Prickly, atonal guitars are sprinkled over a syncopated bassline, while far-off flutes and Smith's pure, icy soprano sparkle like starlight. Though a full-length album by Smith and her collaborator, composer/arranger Phillip Lambro, was planned, unfortunately it never came to pass. Based on this song and "Tiffany Glass," it's a pretty big loss for fans of incredibly strange (and lovely) music. Other standouts include Reg Tilsley's groovy instrumental workout "The Troll" and Basil Kirchin's "I Start Counting," a beautiful, forgotten symphonic pop/folk gem. This collection is a true labor of love: you can still hear some scratches and pops on these songs, but that's part of their charm. It's an album perfect for a crafty, rainy afternoon indoors with felt, macaroni, glue, glitter, yarn, and safety scissors, or perhaps going out into the forest and discovering Cheshire Cats and Mome Raths. Fuzzy-Felt Folk is completely different from any children's music currently being made, but that's exactly why the kids of today should hear it.

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