Michael Cooney, a long-time favorite of Washington's folk community, doesn't sing just for children, but some people think he sings better for children. His regular repertoire ranges from drinking songs to sea chanteys and from England's farthest shores to Canada's coldest border. But "Pure Unsweetened," his latest album, is correctly dubbed a "Live Family Concert," since it snugly fits its own bill.
Cooney, who calls Pete Seeger "my greatest inspiration," carries on Seeger's tradition of songs that entice, entertain and inform. Like Seeger, Cooney wraps everything in sprightly banjo-picking and strumming (though he also takes off on delightful journeys on the jew's harp and the nose flute). Like Seeger, Cooney isn't blessed with a great voice, but he more than makes up for it with a believable warmth and empathetic spirit that make the record less a concert than a communion.
He kicks off with "I'm My Own Grandpa," a convoluted '40s country song inspired by Mark Twain in which the singer proves that by marrying a widow with a grown-up daughter, and by having his father marry the daughter -- well, the title says it all.
There are a few traditional folk songs -- Rosalie Sorrels' insightful "I'm Gonna Tell" -- and a wealth of "real kids' songs" that show how witty, weird, wise and aware kids really are. One favorite derives from a drawing/poem: "May there always be sunshine / May there always be blue skies / May there always be mama / May there always be me."
At one point, Cooney says, "Too much sweetness is as bad for the mind as it is for the teeth." Nonetheless, his album is chock-full of goodies. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM
MICHAEL COONEY -- Pure Unsweetened (Alliance Records AR-001). THE CONCERT
MICHAEL COONEY with Odetta, Friday at 8:30 at Lisner Auditorium.