Sure, it was fun to play the autoharp or the bells or the pan pipes, but what were these instruments really used for? Nobody on MTV was playing them.
(I know. I'm dating myself by referencing a time when MTV actually played music.)
It turns out those were all for making music. You can even make pop music with it -- chamber pop, that is. "Eight Belles" by Jessie Murphy in the Woods includes guitar, keyboards, horns, woodwinds and all kinds of percussion on its nine tracks.
Should it be any surprise the trio is composed entirely of music teachers?
Jessie Murphy and sisters Marcia Wood and Amy Wood are New York City-based teachers who met at Columbia University in 2008. Murphy was already known for her vocals and bluesy guitar around the New York City scene.
With the Woods in tow, the sound is even richer, though. The three voices come together for wonderful, tight harmonies on songs such as "God Save Owen Wilson." The song also highlights one of the unique sounds on the album, as Marcia's pan pipes are featured prominently.
But this album is way more than a novelty project for uncommon instruments. The ladies present a collection of well-written, catchy and all-around good songs.
The second track, "Owen Wilson" jumps out on the first listen for the reasons already named, as well as its curious title. After a number of listens, it's unclear why Wilson or Pocahontas or Dylan Thomas, all of whom are mentioned, are picked out for salvation. But the words certainly get stuck in one's head, though.
The album's standout track, though, is "Tour de Force," with its mix of modern beats and old-timey instruments backing up Murphy's vocals. At moments, it almost dabbles in being dance music, which contrasts with the rest of the record.
On repeated listens, this track definitely rises to the top.
The title track will sound to gambling and horse racing aficionados as the name of the filly who came tantalizingly close to winning the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The story ended in tragedy, though, as Eight Belles fell after crossing the finish line, broke her leg and had to be euthanized on the spot.
The song chronicles the story of the race and reads something like a celebration of feminism and a tragedy at the same time. In spite of almost whimsical music behind her, Murphy pleads, "Please don't build a horse to run on legs like loaded guns."
Is the song a criticism of the culture of the sport or simply a retelling of a tragic story? It's hard to say.
So it goes with the nine tracks of this album. Murphy's lyrics draw you in, get you thinking. The questions don't always have answers, but that keeps the record on repeat, doesn't it?
"Eight Belles" is an unexpected delight. Murphy and the Woods have put together a delightful album that would appear to only scratch the surface of their talents.
Anyone looking for downloads can look to "Tour de Force," the beautiful "Brilliant Sundays," "God Save Owen Wilson" and "New York City Lights."
They may not quit their day jobs anytime soon, but let's hope their nights and summer vacations continue to be filled with making this music.