Formed in 2004, The Minor Key is a collection of young local talent led by multi-instrumentalist and bonafide adult Buddy Dubay. Composed of 18 grade-school-aged vocalists and a handful of ringer studio musicians, the band essentially serves as a tool for the kids to learn about various aspects of the music biz, from songwriting to recording and production. The fruit of their labors is the group’s second album, What Can We Do?
The disc begins with “Sing Like Nobody’s Listening,” and lead vocalist Emma D does just that, unleashing pipes that belie her tender age. Her pitch slides occasionally, but the chutzpah in her delivery overcomes most intonation issues.
“I’ve Been Thinking” comes next and offers semi-stream-of-consciousness hip-hop. MCs Bailey and Tom (no last names are given) tackle some surprisingly heady topics, spitting rhymes such as “I like pie and that’s no lie, why do people have to die?” Eminem it ain’t. But the song introduces a running undercurrent of social awareness that suggests these kids are learning a thing or two about subjects beyond key signatures. What else is rock — or hip-hop — if not a vehicle for social change? Just ask Bono.
Take for example, the third and fourth tracks, “Polar Cap Meltdown” and “Save the World.” As their titles imply, both tunes address the pressing environmental issues of the day, the former with Grace Potter-esque blues-rock. The latter song assumes more of a barn-dance feel and lends the album its title with a surprisingly catchy chorus: “What can I do, what can you do, what can we do, to save this world?” Lead vocalist Kayla has a sweet country croon and delivers some nice ornamental runs. But as with many of the vocal performances throughout, she can veer off pitch. Dubay deserves credit for resisting the temptation to employ Auto-Tune. But one has to wonder why the group’s maestro didn’t address the issue before releasing the album. What good is saving the world if it’s out of tune?
Next is “Lucy,” an ode to the lion king Aslan from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. The ballad’s melody is reminiscent of the Kansas classic “Dust in the Wind” and Styx’s “Sail Away.” Front girl Sarah offers the disc’s strongest vocal performance with a round, measured tone. Refreshingly, she resists the urge to oversing or embellish the melody.
All in all, What Can We Do? is a fun, if occasionally imperfect, album. But who’s perfect? There is no denying that these kids have talent. And it’s obvious they’re having a blast. And really, that’s what matters.