Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Bon Appetit! (Rounder Kids, 2003)

Slapping a spurious 'Health Warning' on a recording is a common enough conceit. However, few performers can claim a positive review in the Health section of The Washington Post. Bon Appetit, the latest release by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer on Rounder Kids, addresses widely-held concerns about the eating habits of school children, and sends a clear and unambiguous message about good nutrition.

When pop machines and junk food dispensers line the halls of most schools in North America and cash-starved school boards and parent groups find themselves increasingly dependent on them to pay for basic educational supplies, there is a desperate need to send a clear message to counteract the propaganda that bombards youngsters from every advertising medium. Mind you, yet another adult preaching about eating right isn't going to make a darn bit of difference if you don't want to listen, and that is why the food fairy couldn't have chosen a more effective pair of messengers than Cathy and Marcy.

To research for this production, sponsored by The Micronutrient Initiative, a non-profit organization addressing micronutrient malnutrition, Cathy and Marcy went to, among others, a nutrition specialist at The World Bank, and The Center for Science in the Public Interest

The result is a wonderful album, professionally produced, full of catchy numbers in a number of musical styles, with the assistance of numerous accompanists. The songs are fun, memorable, and most importantly, have a good long shelf life. Children will be humming 'Bon Appetit' as they reach for the carrot sticks, singing the folksy chorus of 'Water' as they bypass the pop machine, and chanting 'A Little Taste of This, A Little Taste of That' as they try escargots for the first time (well, perhaps not yet ). Other songs include a boogy woogy 'Breakfast Power', featuring saxophones, clarinet, drums and piano; Marcy's bluesy 'Big Strong Muscles'; David Mallet's well known anthem, 'The Garden Song'; 'Five a Day', about eating fruit and vegetables; and eight more, adding up to a healthy and nourishing sixteen tracks.

Bon Appetit should appeal to bigger couch potatoes too, with songs that stand on their musical merits, as tasty for adults as they are for younger listeners. Perhaps a little less buttered popcorn and more apple slices in front of late night TV?

The quality of the production, the sheer entertainment value of the songs, and the effectiveness of the message is no less than you'd expect from a couple of seasoned performers such as these. Renowned for their tight harmony singing, accomplished instrumental work, and interpretations of traditional music, Cathy and Marcy have released twenty-two albums and have garnered three Grammy nominations in 2003 alone, bringing the total to eight. They've sung at the White House too (hopefully extolling the importance of eating a good breakfast before making important decisions).

Once you've listened to the album a few times, get involved! The Web site provides resources for healthy eating, pages to download and colour, and a place to submit food jokes and recipes.

[Alastair Brown]