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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 64.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Ken Lonnquist
Earthy Songs (Maple Twig Music / Tomorrow River Music)

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It's no secret that Madison singer/songwriter Ken Lonnquist loves singing about the environment. After all, he's the guy who enthusiastically adopted the name "Minstrel for the Environment" back in the '80s and has performed his organic, thought-provoking music at schools around the country. Earthy Songs, Lonnquist's umpteenth record, collects songs from a cassette he released in 1994 under the same title, as well as tunes recorded for a never-released second volume and a few others that fit the theme.

Lonnquist also writes adult songs, and perhaps that's why he's one of the most provocative children's performers on the local scene, tackling complex and even frightening topics that most kids' records go out of their way to avoid. "Deadly Levels of Gas" teaches about the dangers of radon (while still managing to squeeze in a fart joke), and "Ozone" warns listeners to "wear shades! Hide your face!/Or you'll become a cancer case." In fact, across one hour and 26 tracks, Earthy Songs boasts enough catchy tunes to keep younger kids intrigued, challenge older kids to think about the world around them and force parents to answer questions like "Dad, what's photosynthesis?" Lonnquist also includes standard kiddie-record fare with an animal sound-effects song ("Little Bitty Frog") and a take-care-of-the-earth message ("People Everywhere"). Meanwhile, the pure pop bliss of "This Shall Forever Be" and the Beatles send-up "Metamorphosis" will entertain Mom and Dad.

Lonnquist has help from many musical friends, including local jazz singer Kelly DeHaven and mandolin player Bob Westfall. The album's professional production and broad, valuable messages should make Earthy Songs required family listening.

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