While it might not be safe to call Iggy Pop "dad rock," one of his songs works just fine as kids' music.
His anthem, "The Passenger," is tucked at the end of "Put Your Arms in the Air!" — the new album of Missoula children's group Cowboy Andy and the Salamanders.
Andrew Hunt, as the frontman is called offstage, used to play in post-punk bands, and was a fan of Pop's version and the one by Siouxsie and the Banshees.
He recalls driving once, with one of his two sons sitting in a car seat staring out the window, and saw parallels in the lyrics. "Kids are always passengers," he said, whether in a car seat or on the back of a bicycle. He liked the idea of reminding parents and grownups that kids aren't in the driver's seat, "they're always being taken somewhere."
It doesn't hurt that the song, played in their own cheerful style rather than Pop's ominous tone, can be a bonus for parents at their shows. They also cover "Ghost Riders in the Sky," or Donovan's "Atlantis."
The rest of their new album, a follow-up to "Bubbles," are originals that delve further into a family sound.
Seven years in, Hunt, the primary songwriter, is the only original member of the group. He rebranded them as Cowboy Andy and the Salamanders to clear up confusion for promoters, since there's a rock band in Bozeman called the Salamanders that is definitely not for kids. Plus, he performs solo as Cowboy Andy, the persona he developed for their shows.
The group has toured out of state before, and wants to continue doing so for this album. Children's music is niche, but a niche that's everywhere. River City Roots Festival has a kids' stage, and so do major festivals like South By Southwest, he said.
The group now is Hunt on vocals, guitar and piano. Russ Gay plays bass. Ian Smith of the late Oblio Joes plays keyboards. Hunt's sister, Heather Hunt, plays saxophone and sings. Antonio Alvarez plays drums and sings, and Matthew Bainton adds percussion. They enlisted some outside players like trumpeter Jeff Stickney, cellist Kim Bassingwaighte, flutist Kyla Otter Baruch, and pianist Oscar Hunt.
There's not a narrative per se, but there are themes.
"The first half of the album really looks at the relationship from the kids' side, and then the parents' side," Hunt said.
One tune, "Mom Only Counts to Three," looks at the common parental threat from a child's point of view. Then, "The Letter Why," is from a parent's perspective about the endlessly recurring questions kids have about why.
Hunt has learned tricks for writing for kids. You need songs for the live show, like the title track, that are interactive and "very specific and engaging." On record, he tries to include more songs that fanciful and story songs, and instrumentals that might give children a break. "Kids need their own soundtracks, instead of music always telling them a narrative, to give kids a chance to write their own stories around music." (One example is "Already Great," a bouncy and whimsical tune.)
Switching up genres remains a trademark for the group. "Bowl of Eggs" was originally going to be a trucker twang song with '50s reverb, but in the studio they decided to give it a Caribbean feel, with synthesizers subbing in for steel drums.
"Tu Eres Lo Mas Preciado" is sung in Spanish, with the lyrics printed inside the CD case. It tells the story of Maria, an 8-year-old girl who lives in San Bernardino, who has questions for her mom about all the talk of "walls" she sees and hears everywhere.
"It's a story about a mother, like any parent, talking to their child about the things that they see and trying to make them feel safe, and reassure them that they aren't responsible for a lot of the things they see in this world right now," he said.
Others are goofy, like "Snow!" a jaunty track looking forward to the arrival of winter. Oddly enough, Hunt wrote it during a sweltering trip to Asia. It was still winter when he returned, and the band realized they couldn't play for another season. He didn't think lyrics like "I hope this winter never ends" would land right for people who were eager for spring.