A Children's Author Wrangles A Cowboy Soundtrack Writer and illustrator Sandra Boynton recruited some of rock and country music's finest to create an eclectic collection of tunes for her new album and songbook, Frog Trouble.
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A Children's Author Wrangles A Cowboy Soundtrack

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A Children's Author Wrangles A Cowboy Soundtrack

A Children's Author Wrangles A Cowboy Soundtrack

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For years, a lot of parents have been putting their children to sleep with "The Going to Bed Book" or "Pajama Time." And now, author and illustrator Sandra Boyton's chickens, aardvarks and other animal characters are getting into some new trouble.


SIMON: "Frog Trouble" is Sandra Boynton's latest CD and songbook. She's recruited some of country music's finest to record her songs. NPR's Debbie Elliott caught up with the writer-turned-music producer in, of course, Nashville.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Sandra Boynton now knows her way around Music Row. We meet in singer-songwriter Ben Folds' studio - part of the old RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios.

SANDRA BOYNTON: First built by Chet Atkins and Roy Acuff in the early '60s. And as you can just tell from being here, it exudes history. It's amazing, the recording that have been made here and the whole feel of the place is magical.

ELLIOTT: Artists ranging from Dolly Parton to Joe Cocker recorded here.

BOYNTON: You can hear the acoustics are wonderful. You know, it's just wonderful.

ELLIOTT: Boynton's affinity for recorded music brought her to studios like this in Nashville to create an eclectic and somewhat retro collection of country songs. Mark Lanegan sings the title track, "Frog Trouble." It harkens back to the cowboy shows Boynton watched as a kid.

BOYNTON: All of us knew the theme songs to them. And I actually love that sound, that cowboy frontier sound and that era of songwriting, the sort of lure of the West.


VIKTOR KRAUSS: Well, I love the tune "Frog Trouble," 'cause it paints such a picture.

ELLIOTT: That's bass player and session leader Viktor Krauss. Boynton calls him the spiritual and musical guide on the project. His sister Allison Krauss sings a ballad on the album.


ELLIOTT: Viktor Krauss says working on kids' music allows for more freedom in the studio. Anything goes, he says, as long as it's not too goofy.

V. KRAUSS: You're appealing to kids and you're also appealing to adults that will have to listen (Laughing) because the kids will want to hear it. You know, it's very cerebral stuff.

ELLIOTT: Cerebral stuff with fun layers of detail, such as including the four-note "My Dog Has Fleas" tune - that's used to tune ukuleles - at the start of Dwight Yoakum's song "I've Got a Dog."


BOYNTON: I had fun getting into this country world. And I now have boots. I've got a hat.

ELLIOTT: You kind of hit some of those great country themes. Like, we've got a dog named Hank.


ELLIOTT: We've got a mama, even though it's an alligator mama. You got a mama. You know, you got trucks.

BOYNTON: Yeah, got trucks, yeah. Well, if you're going to go classic, you want to go classic.


ELLIOTT: That's the band Fountains of Wayne. Other singers on "Frog Trouble" include Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley and Ryan Adams. Boynton's drawings get a country makeover in the illustrated songbook that accompanies the CD. On the cover are three befuddled frogs, one of them decked in a ten-gallon cowboy hat.

BOYNTON: I think my characters often look pretty confused to be where they are. And so these frogs look reasonably confused to be where they are. One of them has a hat on and can't quite explain it. And that's just - someone asked me once why do your characters always look so perplexed but good-natured? And I said, I guess maybe it's self-portrait in a way. I'm a little perplexed but I think pretty good-natured.

ELLIOTT: Good-natured enough to share a bit of her writing process. When Boynton finishes a song, she makes a quick phone call.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thursday, 10:53 AM.

ELLIOTT: That's her partner Michael Ford's answering machine. She's called to sing him the lyrics and tune of a new song.

BOYNTON: The next song is about alligators. (Singing) Well, I was born on a Friday in the Florida sun...


ELLIOTT: Josh Turner sings "Alligator Stroll" on the album.


ELLIOTT: Boynton says she strives to make songs that have staying power.

BOYNTON: I wanted to make music for kids that if you were listening to it from the next room you wouldn't know it were for kids or adults. That's just music.

ELLIOTT: Hence the book's subtitle: for ages one to older than dirt. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

SIMON: To see and hear more of Sandra Boynton's "Frog Trouble" CD and illustrated songbook, visit our website, npr.org.


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