By Eleni P. Austin

I arrived on this earth six months before JFK was assassinated. So, I suppose that makes me elderly. Rock & Roll wasn’t much older, but it was experiencing some serious growing pains during that era. Elvis Presley was serving in the Army, and a parade of antiseptic teen idols lined up to take his place. Thankfully, The Beatles arrived in America in early 1964, creating a musical paradigm that’s still in use today.

Back then, Kids music was also pretty insipid. My mother began exposing me to Greek music, Broadway, Jazz, Country, Blues and R&B in the womb. Consequently, I was less invested in “This Old Man” or “On Top Of Spaghetti,” than my peers. Luckily, on my fourth birthday, I received The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles, a 12-song set that cemented my love for the Fab Four as well as Alvin, Simon and Theodore. A couple years later Chipmunks A-Go-Go taught me songs by Roger Miller, Herman’s Hermits and Tom Jones. By the time Marlo Thomas appeared on the scene with Free To Be You And Me, I was already listening to the “grown-up” sounds of James Taylor, The Jackson 5 and my beloved Osmonds. I realize now, I really could have used some Charlie Faye music in the interim between The Chipmunks and Donny.

Of course, Charlie has been earning her keep as a working musician for nearly two decades. The New York native grew up loving Pop music, but didn’t take a deep dive into genres like Blues and Bluegrass until she was finishing up college in Philadelphia, (The City Of Brotherly Love). Inspired, she he became proficient in guitar and mandolin and rather quickly, she began making music with established artists like Greg Garling and Dan Zanes.


Originally, she took inspiration from singer-songwriters like Rickie Lee Jones, David Baerwald and Lucinda Williams. They motivated her to begin writing her own songs. She relocated to the thriving musical enclave, Austin, Texas, and that was where she hit her stride. Her debut, Last Kids In The Bar arrived in 2006, three years later, she returned with her sophomore effort, Wilson Street.

When it came to making her third album, Charlie approached things a little differently. Instead of heading out on tour, she would actually arrive in a town and reside there at least a month. Acquainting herself with the music scene, she would collaborate with local musicians and come away with a song. 10 cities elicited 10 songs, resulting in her 2011 release, Travels With Charlie.” Her next effort, You Were Fine, You Weren’t Even Lonely, touched on the dissolution of her relationship with musician Will Sexton.

As a solo artist, her sound reflected her love for Blues, Country and Bluegrass. By the time she was living in Los Angeles, she had rediscovered early ‘60s music that encompassed the Brill Building, Stax, Motown and Girl Groups like The Ronettes, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Shirelles, The Shangri-Las and The Supremes. Putting her solo career on pause, she chose to follow her muse.

Even though she was living in L.A., Charlie enlisted a couple of Austin-based pals, Akina Adderley and Betty Soo, to share her vision. Akina is a soulful vocalist who is descended from Jazz royalty, her Great-Grandad was celebrated trumpeter, Nat, and her great Uncle was saxophone giant, Julien “Cannonball” Adderley. Her fiery vocal style has won her acclaim the world over, especially when she was fronting her own 1a0 piece band, Akina Adderley And The Vintage Playboys.

Betty has also created considerable buzz as a Folk-ified singer-songwriter whose music is equal parts sweet and gritty. When Charlie, Akina and Betty’s vocals intertwined, the results were electric. Their self-titled debut arrived in 2016, garnering rave reviews. Three years later they doubled-down on the same winning formula of the debut, returning with The Whole Shebang. Both offerings built off the Girl Group template, smart and soulful, fresh, yet familiar, their sound echoed a bygone era without ever feeling kitschy or cloying.

Charlie became a mom a few years ago, which slowed her roll considerably. Not ready to return to the road, she channeled her energies into creating music for the toddler set. She tried them out on her daughter, and once they passed that rigorous screening process, she corralled a few musical pals into the studio. The result is the self-titled debut of Charlie Faye And The Fanimals.

The record kicks into gear with “7 Days Of Fun.” A Soulful Stax/Motown groover, the track is powered by slinky guitars, syncopated horns, strutting bass lines, carnival keys, staccato hand-claps and a walloping beat. Akina Adderley and Betty Soo, collectively known as the Fayettes are on-hand to provide some honeyed harmonies. Charlie is front and center as she runs through the days of the week, with plenty of amusements to keep the boredom at bay; “Monday, number one day, the first day back to school, Tuesday is a cool day for hanging at the pool, Wednesday, that’s a friends day, and you’ll know we’ll be having fun, Thursday-Friday, we’re gonna play like a band on the run, Saturday I’m hanging with Mama, Sunday, I’ll stay in my pajamas.” Flickery guitars swirly organ and a tambourine shake gambol across the break, amping up the infectious fun.

With Grown-Up Rock & Roll, any subject is ripe for interpretation, love, heartbreak, disappointment, current events, injustice, betrayal. But the Pre-K set hone in on what really matters: food and animals. To that end, Charlie has crafted a few songs to address these specific obsessions.

“Cookie Tree” is a breezy Reggae romp accented by sunny guitars, buttery horns, slippery keys, buoyant woodwinds, ticklish xylophone, lithe bass lines and a Rock Steady riddim. Charlie’s mien is particularly frisky as she name-checks a plethora of confectionary delights; “Chocolate Chip, that’s pretty hip, Peanut Butter, my heart’s a flutter.” Macaroons, shortbread, oatmeal and Black & Whites all get their due, as a honking, Ska-flavored sax shadows her vocals. She is perhaps a bit too enthusiastic when suggesting “A biscotti to eat on the potty.” (Actually, I need to know if this tree is within driving distance, hopefully Charlie can provide me with some coordinates).

Then there’s “Snack Time,” which grooves, swinging ‘60s style, courtesy squiggly Farfisa organ, sinewy guitars, nimble bass, Beatnik bongos and a bohemian backbeat. These snacks are disappointingly healthy, cheese, carrot sticks and celery stalks, but she finally the good stuff filters in; “Gotta have bananas, apples and grapes, oh, I love the way they taste, oatmeal cookie and a bag of puffs, oh man, I’m stuffed, I’ve had enough.”

On the flora and fauna side of the spectrum, “Puppy In The Bath” has a quirky, Vaudevillian flair that echoes the madcap genius of the late, great Harry Nilsson. A see-saw beat connects with stinging guitars, boisterous bass and frolicsome piano notes. Whimsical lyrics detail a puppy’s much needed bath; “Puppy in the bath, turn on the water on, splishy-splash, look at that soapy, sudsy, bubbly, bubbly pup, yup, yup, yup.” Rather than rip a scorching guitar solo, a jaunty whistle unspools on the break.

Meanwhile, “Armadillo” is a rollicking homage to the timid, but determined little armored one, who resides in the great state of Texas. The melody, arrangement and instrumentation conjures up memories of Sir Douglas Quintet. Spikey organ notes, roiling bass lines, whipsaw guitar licks and Conjunto-flavored accordion are wed to a crackling beat. Lyrics like “From tail to snout, sniffing about, eating bugs and grubs, while you scuttle through the shrubs, Armadillo…You came from way down south, up to the Lone Star State, now you’re the toast of Texas, and we’re so glad you came this way, we’re so glad you’re here today,” pay tribute to and offers a pocket history for this new world placental mammal On paper, a confluence of Tex-Mex grit, Girl Group glamor and British Invasion cool, would seem impossible, but Charlie and company make it cook.

The best tracks here, “Me & My Family” and “Milo Wears A Tutu,” advocate for tolerance, individuality and inclusion. So, they’ll probably never get played at a Florida Gymboree. (Wait, is Gymboree still a thing?) On the former, twitchy guitar licks are matched by pulsating organ notes, wily bass and a chunky back-beat. Lyrics celebrate families that have a “mama and a mommy,” a “papa and a daddy” or reside in separate households; “This is me and my family, I got a mom and a dad who love me, some days I’m at mama’s house, on others it’s dad and me, yeah that’s me and my family.” A chorus of “ba-ba-ba-ba-bahs” are accompanied by plunky toy piano after Charlie delivers this sentient slice of wisdom; “Everyone deserves a song to feel the love and sing along.”

The latter (not unlike Dar Williams’ grown-up Folk Rocker, “When I Was A Boy”), let’s kids know that it’s okay to march to the beat of their own drum. Fluttery keys are bookended by shang-a-lang guitars, thrumming bass and a kinetic beat. Milo’s just a kid who enjoys dancing in a tutu, preferably pink. The years progress; “Milo grew to be a boy, he played with every kind of toy, trucks and trains and games of chance, but when it came time to dance, you’d hear Milo say, whenever he heard that music play, I’ll wear a tutu.” As piano notes ripple and cascade, Milo grows to be a big strong man who most days wears long pants, but when it’s time to dance, “it kind of feels like a tutu day.”

Other interesting tracks include “Get Down” which shares some musical DNA with classics like “Twist And Shout,” “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance).” The album closes with the fizzy Girl Group pop of “Octopus Getting Dressed.”

Charlie Faye is here to save the day for parents that are bored with Barney, The Wiggles and Raffi. Along with her Fanimals (which includes drummer Pete Thomas, from Elvis Costello’s Imposters, bassist Scott Davis, guitarist Adrian Queseda, Trevor Nealon on keys, Michael Ramos on accordion, Brian Myers on sax and piccolo, Jim Brunberg on trumpet, sax, percussion nose flute and xylophone, plus the backing vocal stylings of The Fayettes, Dana Starr Brunberg Sparling, Veronica Sue Brunberg Sparling, Suzanna Choffel, Barbara Nesbit and Madicyn Villalobos), she’s created a world where kids can learn the days of the week as well as the freedom attached to self-expression. Singing along to melodies that are catchy and concise, but never dumbed-down.