Album Reviews, Articles and Testimonials

Sean McCollough is a Parent's Choice Award winner, a multi-instrumentalist, and a seasoned performer, who also teaches musicology at the University of Tennessee. A former member of the fabled East Tennessee band the Lonetones, he’s made his presence known as a children's radio host on radio station WDVX, one reason why his first children’s album Earworm is such a stunning success. Flush with songs that are both tender and touching, it’s not only perfect for the young folks of the household, but their parents as well. The signature song alone is worth the price of admission, and it’s also true to its title, thanks to a chorus that gets under the skin and refuses to leave. Of course, McCollough’s a superb songwriter, and it’s easy to imagine several of these selections becoming standards in years to come. One of the better outside contributions is the track “Rag Doll,” a sweetly sad written by another East Tennessee native Greg Horne and an offering that makes for an earworm of its own. Those looking for a set of songs they can share with their kids and enjoy on their own ought to look no further.” - Lee Zimmerman

Stories Beyond the Music

It’s not even officially released yet, but “Earworm,” the latest album by my friend Sean McCollough, is already an award winner.     Last week, the National Parenting Product Awards named “Earworm,” which McCollough will celebrate with a release party on Saturday morning as part of his monthly “Kidstuff Live” concert series and a Best Children’s Music Award. It’s not his first foray into the realm of songs for young people: “This Is Our House” was released in 2010, and a year later, he launched the “Kidstuff” program on WDVX-FM.     On the second Saturday of each month, “Kidstuff” is broadcast live from the same stage in the downtown Knoxville Visitors Center as the WDVX “Blue Plate Special,” and while most live shows feature guest musicians, this week’s spotlight will shine entirely on the host.     While it’ll certainly be a party, McCollough told me this week, it’ll also be slightly pared down — because next weekend, he’s bringing a full band to the Children’s Festival of Reading, an all-day event at World’s Fair Park.     “I think that for sure that (local multi-instrumentalist) Kyle Campbell is playing with me, and Matt Nelson is going to join me on bass, and I’m hoping to get Steph (Gunnoe, his wife) up there to sing some, too,” he said. “Next weekend, I’ll bring a full band with drums, bass, keyboards. That one will be a little more rocking, while this week’s will be a little folkier.”     McCollough can move comfortably between those distinctive sounds. His first children’s album was a solo effort, and “This Is Our House,” credited to Sean McCollough and Friends, was a pastiche of 10 traditional songs and five originals. The key to making successful children’s music, he said, is to approach it from a place of authenticity.     “I think I kind of came out of the Pete Seeger model of playing kids music,” he said. “That’s still a fantastic model, and I still borrow from that heavily. I tried really hard on this record and in the past to record music that’s just good music: well produced, well played and songs that don’t talk down to kids, but that kids can still relate to thematically.”     In fact, he added, he put as much work into “Earworm” as he does on the albums he makes with Gunnoe as the “Appalachian rock ‘n’ roll” band The LoneTones. There are no shortcuts just because it’s a children’s record, and he never looks at the songs he collects as novelties. If anything, working with respected local, regional and national performers of children’s material through “Kidstuff” helped him to shape some of those tunes.     “Both Molly Ledford (who guests on “Sunsphere”) and Billy Jonas (a guest on “Green Means Go”) are pretty well-known children’s artists, and they’ve both been on my radio show, and I’ve gotten to know them through that,” he said. “They were both really happy to help. Molly’s song, in fact, had never been recorded before. She wrote it for a gig in Knoxville at the World’s Fair Park, and because it’s so geographically specific, she may have never recorded it. So I approached her, asked her if I could record it and, oh by the way, can you come sing on it? And she did.”     He credits his rhythm section with helping turn the songs into their final versions. Vince Ilagan and Jamie Cook are familiar names in the Knoxville music scene, and the grooves they created to anchor each song helped to give them the buoyancy and bounce that make for engaging and enthusiastic tunes — perfect to please the aural palate of younger listeners.     “We had a lot of fun making it, and we’ve been pleased by the reception so far — especially from kids, because the reviews don’t matter if the kids don’t like it!” he said. “(The title track) is a favorite, and I think it’s partially because there are lots of ways to participate when I play it live. I have hand motions for the lines ‘squirmy worm’ and ‘wiggly worm,’ and everybody, including the grownups, seems to enjoy the ‘uh-ohs!’ in it. It’s become a little bit of a crowd favorite, and kids always like the ones where they can really participate.     “Even some that you might not think work really well live end up going over well, like ‘ABC (The Writing Song).’ It’s about the joys of writing, and because the kids are usually that age where they’re learning or already know their ABCs, they know the words and sing along, even though the melody is weird and different.”     Different is what makes McCollough’s contributions to the vibrant scene such a joy to listen to. This summer, he and Steph will gather the rest of The LoneTones (who will perform Saturday at Vestival in South Knoxville, after the “Kidstuff” release show) to record that band’s next record, but in the meantime, “Earworm” is a fantastic addition to any family’s playlist — as is a live radio show on the second Saturday of each month, when you can see Sean and others perform regularly. ” - Steve Wildsmith

Daily Times

While I seldom focus on young adult music, I must admit Sean McCollough’s 3rd album Earworm (Little Thing Records) is engaging and melodic. Sean is a fixture in the Appalachian folk & Americana scenes. The LP has 15 musicians and that doesn’t count the children’s chorus. So, while the list of musicians is too numerous to mention individually, I assure listeners they’re all proficient and tight as a bug in a rug. Though the songs are meant for kids they’re written in a serious, humorous way. Each possesses a lesson but not in a silly manner; elementary or juvenile. Sean lacks mediocrity and he pushes the inspiration. They’re all charmingly polished and they’re for children — but not childish. Sean’s musical instincts are sharp and well-served with a natural genre blend distilled yet sweetened with…well, the plain truth. Sean doesn’t try to impress with musicianship – he aims for their attention. “Earworm,” – which describes how song melodies get stuck in your head is skillful. Sean’s banjo pluck is dominant, catchy and slick. “All Kinds of Singing” is performed descriptively about how there are so many exemplary and varying voices in a song. Similarly, in the early 60’s singer/Sun Records Producer & Engineer Jack Clement had a minor novelty approach with his clever “My Voice Keeps Changing on Me.” Sean’s tunes are reminiscent of the great work also performed by Tom Chapin, (brother of Harry), and Australian folk singer Rolf Harris who hit in the early ’60s with a cardboard flapping effect on “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport.” Sean displays ingenuity and that’s what separates these songs from the more childish ones. “Sunsphere,” features female vocalist/songwriter Molly Ledford who sings with Sean and provides an attractive voice for children. “ABC (The Writing Song),” is a more modern melodic driven exercise. The late Pete Seeger would’ve approved. “Her Name Was Lady,” introduces youngsters’ ears to jazz. The band is tight, and the addition of animal sounds is not cheeky, it complements the jazzy Geol Greenlee piano. From jazz, Sean goes grittier with a voice surrounded by steady guitar strums on “Don’t Let ‘em Get Your Goat.” He lays down a firm lesson through his lyric with an inspiring arrangement – the late Harry Nilsson in tradition and a tune Peter, Paul & Mary would’ve covered. Vince Ilagan’s bass spreads a thick carpet of notes while Jamie Cook controls the tremor of drums. Jazzier 50’s style: “Fuzzy Brown Vine (aka Poison Ivy)” summons a bit of Randy Newman tongue in cheek without being cynical, bitter or sarcastic: “The deadliest three leaves that you’ll ever find…” Excellent groove. Putting a child at ease is the subject of “Carsick,” – a pleasantly upbeat tune about a not so upbeat subject. It makes light of serious affliction children suffer and can relate to. May even be the Dramamine on the next car trip. Some songs are stronger than others but the final track “Big Ears” is quite the masterpiece. The instrumentation opens a comical subject, locks into excellent vocals, has exciting banjo picking laced into the children’s chorale of voices and it’s quite stunning. Traditionally this vocalizing is more popular in England than in America. Pink Floyd used it effectively in “Another Brick in the Wall,” and Harry Nilsson used a senior citizen chorale in his “I’d Rather Be Dead (Than Wet My Bed).” Also, surprisingly, there’s a moment when the kids count numbers quickly – a page from Phillip Glass’ classic sequence on “Einstein On the Beach.” Even if Sean didn’t know it. Sean McCollough’s Earworm is a great children’s entertainment effort, a worthy effort and yes, I found it delightful to listen to. Sean just may be the new Sharon, Lois & Bram for children who want more character in their songs. The 44-minute collection was produced in TN by Sean and is available at CD Baby, Amazon & iTunes.” - John Apice

Americana Crossroads

Americana Highways brings you this premiere of the title track from Sean McCollough’s children’s album Earworm, due to be released on May 11. The album was mixed at Little Thing Studios in Knoxville, TN and mastered by Seva at Soundcurrent Maastering in Knoxville, TN. Cover art is by Riley Bronaugh.  Sean McCollough on lead vocals and guitar,  Steph Gunnoe on background vocals, Vince Ilagan on electric and upright bass and Jamie Cook on drums.     Many of us have children in our lives, and it’s marvelous to have good quality music to offer them.  Lyrically, Sean McCollough manages to create songs that have the clarity for kids to grasp, while avoiding the insipid qualities of the fare that’s so widely available.  “Earworm” explains the concept of that expression — the literal connotations of “ear worm” are slightly unpleasant for listeners of any age, so this is a disarming, charming, clarification.  A requisite for a song’s appeal to children is that it is something they will understand, with hooks that make for earworms, while the quality of the song will still depend on the musicianship behind the lyrics, and McCollough unmistakably achieves this.  Earworm is a collection of earworms from start to finish.     I offhandedly mentioned that the song I was singing was a real earworm. I was met with a chorus of ‘oohs, gross, and yuck!’ I quickly explained that I wasn’t talking about a wiggly worm or a squirmy worm, but rather that ‘earworm’ is another term for a song stuck in your head. Very soon after, the song was born. Kids love to come up to me and complain that I have gotten this song stuck in their head. So I guess that perhaps ‘Earworm’ is an earworm about earworms. — Sean McCollough” - Melissa Clarke

Americana Crossroads

  Sean McCollough is a musical artist and popular WDVX Radio show host who will release “Earworm,” his third album of songs for kids and their grownups, on May 11, 2019. With 13 stick-in-your-head original and cover songs, “Earworm” features guests including Billy Jonas, Molly Ledford, members of The Lonetones and the Kidstuff Singers. Sean McCollough is a fixture in the Appalachian folk and Americana scenes and a University of Tennessee music professor, is well known around Knoxville for his music, radio show and festival presentations. His 2010 album titled “This Is Our House” won a Parents’ Choice Award. Sean recently discussed his career and more via an exclusive interview. Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in music and how come you focus on kid’s music? Sean McCollough (SM): I’ve played music for as long as I can remember. Both of my parents were musical and there was always a piano and guitar in the house. I played in a rock band in high school and dabbled with playing solo in bars in college, but I didn’t really start playing professionally until after college. I’ve always played music for grown-ups as well. I currently play in a band with my wife called The Lonetones. I started playing for kids when my first child was a toddler and friends with kids began asking if I could play at their kids’ schools. It seems I had a knack for it in a folksy, Pete Seeger kind of way, so I kept doing it. I never expected it to become what it has, but I love having it as a part of my life and as one of my musical outlets. MM: How did you go about securing your first record and how did that lead to other albums being produced? SM: My high-school band-mate Doug Derryberry (who went on to play with the likes of Bruce Hornsby and the Range and the Sesame Street Band) recorded my first album when I was right out of college. I released it on cassette! I then self-produced a solo singer-songwriter CD and a live children’s album. From there, I have gone on to produce a number of other albums including five for the Lonetones. I have recorded nine albums in my home studio including “Earworm.” MM: How is “Earworm” different from your other albums? SM: When I perform live for kids, I include a lot of traditional Appalachian music, and my two previous children’s recordings include some of that. For this record, I chose to include nine originals and covers of more recent songs by people I know (or almost know in the case of “Let’s Give A Party” by Martin, Bogan and Armstrong). There is also more electric guitar and keyboard on this record than on previous releases, though there are still a lot of acoustic sounds as well. MM: What inspired the songs on your forthcoming album? SM: I tend to just write songs when they come to me. I know some people are successful with picking a topic and setting out to write a song. But your question is on target because I usually wait for inspiration, and that inspiration usually comes from my life. Sometimes I draw on my own childhood, my own children’s experiences, or things that school kids say to me at my shows. Here’s a little about each original song on the record. “Earworm” was inspired by a conversation with some kids about the term “earworm” – a term that they thought was quite gross. “Her Name Was Lady” was inspired by looking through an old photo album with my daughter and remembering how important my goats were to me as a kid. “Don’t Let ‘Em Get Yer Goat” was inspired by a conversation with a teacher about a student I met at a school who was very interested in music. I learned that despite her own talent, she was seen as an outsider and picked on by other kids. I wrote most of the song on the drive home. As I prepared to host the Knoxville Opera Company on my Kidstuff radio show, I started thinking about all the different ways that people sing. And “All Kinds of Singing” was born. “ABC” was inspired by performing at a school and talking to kids about songwriting. “Carsick” was inspired by the fact that both I and two of my three kids have suffered from being prone to carsickness.  “Green Means Go” was inspired by my late friend and musical partner Phil Pollard. He made up a chant about getting carsick that we used to do with kids using sign language (and I still do). I turned it into a song and was thrilled to get Billy Jonas to play percussion and sing it with me.  “Kidstuff,” my radio theme song, is the song that was most deliberate. But it was still written in a moment of inspiration when I got a phone call asking me to host a children’s radio show. I got off the phone, took the dogs for a walk, and wrote it in my head by the time I was back home.  “Big Ears” was inspired by a boundary-pushing festival of the same name that we have here in Knoxville. We have started hosting a show on Kidstuff in collaboration with the festival each year called “Big Ears for Little Ears.” The first time we did this, my special guest was Billy Martin of Medeski, Martin and Wood. I knew that I needed something new and special for that show, so I wrote “Big Ears” the night before. Sometimes inspiration comes in the form of a deadline!   MM: Of all the songs, have you any special favorites? SM: It’s hard to pick a favorite. They all have a place in my heart for one reason or another. “Earworm” is a crowd favorite across the age span. The little ones love the hand motions and everyone seems to love the “uh ohs.” MM: How do you plan out your concerts and what can attendees expect from live events? SM: My shows are a mix of original, traditional and cover songs. I gear them towards the age of the audience, but also keep the adults in mind, trying to play things that they will enjoy too. My concerts are very participatory. I rarely do a song without something for the audience to do. Sometimes it’s a rhythmic pattern to learn (e.g. the end of the chorus on “Her Name Was Lady”), hand motions (e.g. “Earworm”), call and response (e.g. “Let’s Give a Party”) or just singing along on the chorus. I also often pass out rhythm instruments towards the end of the show and have a handful of songs that allow for active participation that is more than just making a bunch of noise. MM: You work as a WDVX Radio show host, so how did you get into that field and how would you describe the WDVX programming? SM: After I released my last family record, WDVX approached me about hosting a children’s radio show. WDVX plays a wide array of music. Much of it falls under the umbrella of Americana, but they are fine with me playing world music, rock, soul, and whatever else I think kids will like. My favorite part about WDVX is all of the live music shows that they produce, and Kidstuff is one. I host a live show once a month with special guest. My guests are often local musicians, but I have also hosted the likes of Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Billy Jonas, Molly Ledford, Farmer Jason, Brady Rymer, Jim Gill, Roger Day, and Aaron Nigel Smith.” - Meagan Meehan


Knoxville artist tuning in to kids WDVX, local musician team up for children's radio show Local musician Sean McCollough has performed hundreds of shows for both children and adults, but he admits to being a little nervous at the prospect of hosting his own radio show for children. I'm sure I'll have to kind of feel my way," says McCollough. "I've never been a DJ before. I hope the show gets tighter and I get looser. The show "Kidstuff" will premiere at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 4, on WDVX (89.9, 102.9 and 93.9 FM and A little over a week before, he went into the WDVX studio to learn the controls and was immediately put on the air to promote the show. I was a little nervous, but it was kind of exhilarating," says McCollough. WDVX program manager Tony Lawson says the idea for a children's radio show on WDVX had been in consideration for some time. We were not in a position to do it, staff-wise, and then Sean put out his children's record," says Lawson. "Sean's so good with kids, and he's a great musician. ... Who better to host a kids' show for us? McCollough's album, "This Is Our House," was released in late 2010 and was recently given a Parents' Choice recommendation. It's been selling well to libraries and earning good reviews. One of the most important aspects of the disc is that it's as entertaining for adults as it is children. That may be because of McCollough being in the bands The Lonetones and the John Myers Band, which are not children's groups. McCollough says children appreciate being engaged on several levels. He plans to present a wide variety of genres in the show and take time to tell a little about the music. I'd also like to stretch beyond music that's just intended specifically for kids and just pick music that I think kids would like," says McCollough. "I really want to stay away from thinking this just has to be children's performers. While, he says, it will take some time to establish the show's format, McCollough intends "Kidstuff" to be a variety show with live performers, recorded music and, possibly, storytelling. I hope to make it thematic," says McCollough. "One week I'll focus on a certain instrument or a certain artist or songwriter. I also hope to include, either live or recorded, performances by kids themselves. There are a lot of young performers around here who are really talented, so we'll try to include that as well. McCollough's album features performances by the Pinklets, which is made up of his daughter Willa and the three daughters of fellow musician Kevin Abernathy. Lawson says that during the station's New Year's Eve live-music celebration, 4-year-old Harlan Gladson, the son of Pea Ridge Rambler member Todd Gladson, was playing the fiddle on stage at the Knoxville Visitor's Center. Other children wanted to get on stage, too. The plan for "Kidstuff" includes presenting at least one show per month live in front of an audience - sort of a "Blue Plate Special" for children and families. Hopefully," says Lawson, "it'll reach the inner kid in everyone.” - Wayne Bledsoe

Knoxville News Sentinel

“Sean McCollough has that X factor - his music is joyful, engaging, sweet, creative, illuminating, and memorable, and rises to the top overtime. It worms its way into your ears, and lifts your heart. I love Sean’s voice, and I love his take on the world. Like the classic children’s and family music you already love, this music will keep both the adults and the kids happily singing along on repeated listenings. Prepare for a wonderful new addition to the soundtrack of your family’s life!" 

     ~ Award-winning children's musician Billy Jonas 

"Earworm is a collection of earworms from start to finish" 

     ~ Americana Highways 

"He demonstrates his versatility in roots music, including blues, bluegrass, African-American string band, and chant; with some rock, pop, and jazz as well. A wonderful and quirky album that is fun for the whole family." 

     ~ BookwormBev 

Using real musicians who can really play, the songs are educational and FUN! And yes these tunes DO stick in your head. 

     ~ Jason Ringenberg (aka Farmer Jason) 

"You'll be finger snapping and toe tapping to the energetic beats of Sean McCollough's new kindie album EARWORM. Kindie music merges artists' adult sensibilities and performance styles with family-friendly themes meant to entertain and educate children. EARWORM blends McCollough's Appalachian folk music with mainstream pop sounds to create stick-in-your head rootsy tunes full of positive messaging." 

     ~ A Geek Daddy Blog 

"Radio show host and songwriter Sean McCollough presents Earworm, a family-friendly album of delightful, folk-style music. The music lives up to the album's title, which refers to songs so intensely catchy, they wormed their way right into the listener's ear! Highly recommended." 

     ~ Midwest Book Review 

"Sean McCollough has long been one of my favorite people in kids' music, and this much-anticipated album has been worth the wait. The songs on Earworm are full of fun and heart, about things that kids and adults will relate to (personally, I wish I couldn't relate so strongly to "Carsick"!) From the majesty of "Sunsphere" to the simplicity of "Rag Doll," this whole album is full of earworms I love having stuck in my head!" 

     ~ "Miss Lynn" Hickernell, kids' music-maker and host of "The Good Words" Podcast