Slugs & Bugs: Under Where? — A Release Day Review

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In her keynote address at Hutchmoot a few weeks ago, Sally Lloyd-Jones told the harrowing story of a time she was left alone with a roomful of elementary-aged Sunday schoolers. The teacher stepped out of the room while Sally read the story of Daniel in the lions’ den from her wonderful Jesus Storybook Bible. The kids were loving it. They were bright-eyed, alert, engaged.

But when Sally got to the end of the story, the teacher hadn’t returned. It was just Sally and the Sunday schoolers. Expectant faces. Awkward silence. Sally glanced toward the door. No sign of the teacher. She panicked. “So, children…” she began, forcing a smile. “What lesson can we learn from this story?”

The children, so willing and eager a few moments earlier, slumped in their chairs, as sullen as washed cats.

Sally knew better. Of course she knew better. She wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible, for crying out loud. She only did what you or I would have probably done in the same stressful circumstances. When it comes to communicating truth to children, our default tends to be moralizing and lesson-mongering, especially when we don’t have the time or energy to put more thought into it.

One of the things I love about Slugs & Bugs Under Where? is the fact that Randall Goodgame so skillfully steers clear of moralizing while still speaking some big truths to his young listeners.

There are songs on Under Where? that are just a ton of fun. “Mexican Rhapsody,” a rock opera piece about Mexican food, contains the following lines:

What does pico de gallo mean?
Beak of the rooster.
Beak of the rooster.
Sounds kind of pointy.
I don’t want to eat that.

These lines, by the way, are sung with a bombastic mock-seriousness that is reminiscent of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The song “Food” declares,

I won’t eat a taxi or a mannequin hand.
I won’t eat chicken feathers.
Just food, food, only food for me.

There’s a lot of that kind of stuff in this album. There’s also a lot of this kind of stuff:

I’m very, very capable of anger.
Just try and take my candy bar away.
I’m very, very capable of selfishness,
When I only play what I want to play.
Usually I’m very sorry later,
But eventually it happens again.
If this sounds like you and you’re so confused,
I’ve got good news, my friend.
Just tell it to Jesus, he already knows.
Tell it to Jesus, before it grows.
We all mess up, it’s sad but true.
But that’s what human beings do.
So tell it to Jesus, cause he loves you.

That’s from “Tell It To Jesus.” It’s hard to imagine a clearer, more concise, or more compassionate statement of the gospel for young listeners. Or consider “I’m Adopted,” which deserves to be an anthem for adoptive families everywhere.

I was born into a story full of twists and turns
even the scary kind, and that’s the truth
Yeah that was my beginning, but just turn the page
And there you’ll find, in chapter two
How love had a plan for me
And a great big family
I’m adopted, I’m adopted

It’s the New Testament doctrine of adoption, placed in the context of family adoptions that kids see all the time. This isn’t exactly lightweight theology.

All three Slugs & Bugs records speak to kids on their level without speaking down to kids. To put it another way, they’re more concerned with the way kids think than with the way kids ought to think. In “Under Where?,” Randall and Andrew Peterson (wearing Bubba teeth, I’m pretty sure) get all the way down to the level of the youngest listeners–maybe even lower–with an old joke. (“Have you looked under there?” “Under where?” Get it? Underwear?) That’s one way of getting down to a child’s level. Another way is to speak of truths that are shallow enough for a child to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in. “God makes messy things beautiful,” or “God made you special, and he loves you very much” (that last was originally written for Veggietales).

Katy Bowser of Coal Train Railroad speaks of “inviting children into the conversation” with her music. I love that. And I think it’s a great way to talk about what Randall is doing with Slugs & Bugs. Besides inviting children into the conversation about faith, it invites them into some interesting musical conversations too. This is good, complex music from many different genres: New Orleans horn jazz, western swing, arena rock, African music, Chinese music, even a little klezmer. A horn trio (Dennis Solee, Roger Bissell, and Kevin Smith) add all kinds of depth and color to many of the songs on this record. The musicians are top-drawer, including Buddy Green, Stuart Duncan, Jeff Taylor, Paul Eckberg, Andy Osenga, and Ben Shive. Ben co-produced the record with Randall, and his brilliance shines throughout. And Andrew Peterson, besides adding some great vocal harmonies, also did the cover illustration.

There is a long tradition that treats story and song as a means of sneaking lessons past our children’s defenses. “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” according to Mary Poppins. Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld published a book called Deceptively Delicious, with recipes for spinach brownies and chocolate chip muffins with yellow squash and whatnot, whereby children unwittingly ingest vitamins while they eat dessert. That’s not what happens here. In the Slugs & Bugs world, the sugar is the medicine. It’s a world where delight carries the day, whether that’s the delight we experience in ninjas and lightning bugs and getting dizzy, or the delight that God experiences when he sees the children he loves so deeply. Slugs and Bugs reminds us that delight is intertwined with grace, coming and going.

So, children, what lesson can we learn from Slugs & Bugs: Under Where? Simply this: the world where we live and move and have our being is a world full of delight. And also this: you, child, are a source of delight yourself. You are loved.

Mexican Rhapsody

Slugs & Bugs Under Where? is now available in the Rabbit Room store.

 

Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we’ve ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.


27 Comments

  1. david toney

    what jud said….

    my 4 year old is just at the time when he wants to understand lyrics. i’m glad this is his favorite album. and by “favorite album” i mean – the only album he will ever listen to.

  2. Breann

    This review articulates so well what I love about Slugs & Bugs. Thanks, Jonathan. It’s music that ascribes kids dignity and value. It doesn’t speak down, but bends down. And, delight (whether it’s our delight in a wonder-full world or God’s delight in us) courses through the veins of each song.

  3. Alyssa

    I had to Google “klezmer.” I always learn something new from you, sir.

    Congrats to Randall and all the Slugs & Bugs team. They just keep getting better.

  4. Randall Goodgame

    @randallgoodgame

    Thank you Jonathan, for this. I’m so thankful for the generous responses to the music and mission of S&B. And you’re right, Alyssa. It’s a team effort for sure. I’m glad JR mentioned the horn players, because they did add so much, but folks should know that Ben Shive wrote all the horn parts for all the songs – except the freewheeling stuff on The Wagon.

    Ben encouraged me to call myself co-producer, but that guy really was and is brilliant in the studio, and this record hits all the the marks musically because of him. From the laughing kids and juice harp on Under Where? to the background SHED!! and BREAD!! vocals on I Wanna Help to the musical theme of Where You Gonna Go, Ben’s ideas weave all the music together so seamlessly that you can easily miss the rich beauty and musical giftedness behind it. Which is why I’m bringing it up.

    And jeesh – what would the record be without AP’s pitch-perfect foil to my straight man on Under Where? and The Wagon. I shamelessly enjoy listening to that stuff over and over.

    Oh, and believe it or not, the first few lines of Mexican Rhapsody actually came out of the mouths of Andrew’s sons Aedan and Jesse Peterson.

  5. Stephen

    I loved the review, it makes me want to buy the CD. (Oh the sorrows of being a poor college student.) I loved the song too.
    I played it for my roommate. (And by the way, I googled Klezmer too.)

  6. Leigh

    LOVE this cd – LOVE all Slug and Bugs!!!! My 5 yo asks for it continually, my 3 yo walks around the house singing “Under Where?”, and my heart melts when I’m asked, “Mom, what does “capable of anger mean?”” THAT’s where the conversations start, where the heart is reached… when messy little kids (and their messy big parents) know that God makes messy things beautiful, the Gospel catches our hearts…

  7. Loren

    Thanks for an awesome review that sums up everything, Jonathan! We’ve been loving the songs since we got the download a few weeks ago–it’s great to watch my kids eat it up and laugh and sing. I’ve “infected” a number of friends’ kids with the first cd, and look forward to doing more with this one. And as has been mentioned, not only are the lyrics catchy and wonderful in so many ways, the music itself is top-notch. I love the variety of styles and instruments that are used. There’s something new that pops out each time. (And I’m proud to say that my hubby spotted the Queen themes of which I was totally ignorant, but I did know that the sock song was Klezmer…except I couldn’t for the life of me remember the right word! 🙂 )

  8. Brian

    Three thoughts:

    Randall Goodgame has a really broadway-ish voice, in a good way. He can really let it fly.

    That lyric from “Tell it to Jesus” brought tears to my eyes; I can’t wait to listen to the song with my kids.

    Huevos aren’t just eggs :).

  9. Matthew

    Very good review for a great album. My kids have it memorized, even my two year old. We happened to get our digital copy right before a road trip, so it was Slugs and Bugs most of the way (and I didn’t mind). Randall and Andrew really have put some great music together, kids music that will last through someones lifetime as we pass it on. I’ve passed on some of what my parents showed me (Judy Rogers, Steve Green’s Hid’em in your heart), it is nice to have more, and more fun to boot. In with great kids music and out with some of that horrid stuff our society tries to pass down.

    By the way, you can take this as a plug for Judy Rogers, her music also surpasses time, and whereas her music doesn’t necessarily bring the same fun over, it also brings God’s word into focus, her children’s albums “Go to the Ant” and “Why Can’t I See God” are still some of my favorite music (Never Be Shaken is outstanding for adults as well).

  10. Grace

    I’ve spent the last half hour in stitches listening to this album. I’m living overseas with a family who have children from 1 to 6 years old, and their friends have another three kids, 5 months to 4 years, and between them all, I have experienced first hand ‘The Wagon,’ ‘I Wanna Help,’ ‘Where You Gonna Go’ and a variation of ‘Food.’

    The kids are great at picking up whatever fun song the closest adult is singing, so I’m sure to hear these a lot more in the next month(s)!

    Thanks for such great messages and quality fun!

  11. Elizabeth of the Kirk in the Woods

    This song grows on you… Can’t wait until we get our copy! 😀

    Special number 5?!?! You guys haven’t been to Hotel Payara in Acarigua Venezuela, have you?

  12. Tony from Pandora

    For an hour last night, my 7 & 4 year old girls would be reading and randomly shouting, “HUEVOS ARE EGGS!”

  13. Kari Richmond

    Thank you so much for this wonderful album, Mr. G., Ben, and friends! Randall, I saw you’re going to be in Apex NC on Dec. 4. Any chance you’d want to come by Asheville (4 hour drive) that weekend too? I can’t promise anything, but I will do everything in my power to get you a crowd of folks!

  14. Shelley R.

    I’ve described the “Slugs & Bugs” series to others as “goof-a-licious” and “funtastic musicality” not to mention all the bonuses of songs for kids (of all ages) that are infused with grace and truth. Eagerly dancing by the mail-box until our copy arrives…

  15. Goodgame

    Kari – we should talk. That weekend is otherwise open.

    Elizabeth, if you’re saying that Huevos Burritos is “Special #5” somewhere in Venezuela, I’ll have to get a copy of that menu.

    And thanks for the Judy Rogers rec. I’ll have to check that out.

    Thank you everyone.

  16. Elizabeth of the Kirk in the Woods

    It just might be… I know it had huevos for number 5. I might have a picture, actually. Be forewarned, the menu is in Espanol. 😉

  17. Peter B

    Oh. My.

    Such a blend of talent and passion. It was with superhuman self-control that I restrained myself from a hearty guffaw right here at my computer.

    The Schubert-esque “surprise” ending nearly killed me.

    Must. Buy.

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