Play It Again, Mr. Softee … 

With a portable freezer, a good car audio system and these CDs, you too can cruise the streets in your very own ice cream whip.

click to enlarge ice-cream_truck100.jpg

Everybody knows that sound, chiming away in the distance. …

It conjures two of the great things most of us humans get to enjoy: the bliss of childhood summer days and an icy cold treat on a hot day.  Of course, I'm talking about the tinkling, fleeting tunes of the American Ice Cream Truck. That obnoxious sound that proclaims (sometimes too loudly) to the entire neighborhood: "I'm sweet and I'm cold, and I'm coming your way.  Crowd beneath my shoddy overhang and raise your money high, children."

Which brings us to Michael Hearst, a former Richmonder and Virginia Commonwealth University composition graduate. Hearst has found a moderate level of success with his band, One Ring Zero, a duo that performs an eclectically modern blend of music using nontraditional instruments (The New Yorker calls it "Gypsy-Klezmer, cartoon-circus-flea music you mainly hear in your dreams."). Having fallen in with the McSweeney's Quarterly crowd in Brooklyn, the band's now a literary favorite. It's recorded albums with well-known authors including Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Paul Auster, Dave Eggers, Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, A.M. Homes, Denis Johnson and others. But for his latest solo project, Hearst decided to explore the magical sound of ice cream trucks.

"Songs for Ice Cream Trucks" (Urban Geek Records) is Hearst's 31-minute, atmospheric tribute to these ice cream songs of old. Here, he creates original songs with names like "The Popsicle Parade" and "Ice Cream Yo!" — performing them on a variety of instruments, including glockenspiel, electronic chord organ, melodica, claviola, theremin, casiotone, guitar, bass, drums, vocals (with guest vocals provided by a number of people, including actor Michael Buscemi, Mr. Pink's brother), and something called space crickets. All ages can enjoy this lighthearted musical ride, from kids to adults — especially music lovers who like unusual instruments or Tim Burton movies.

Strangely, another CD with a similar theme was also recently released: "Ice Cream Truckin'" (Mulatta Records) from Twink, the toy piano band. I know what you're thinking: Two CDs of ice cream music is enough to drive anyone batty — and you would be right. But this project by Twink (aka Mike Langlie) is different. Here, toy piano songs were recorded and given to musicians and producers to rearrange, remix and rework. The electronic results are almost psychedelic or New Agey-sounding — but in a wholesome, friendly way, not a "beware, children, of strangers handing out tiny Mickey Mouse stickers" kind of way.   Too much listening to this CD will make you feel like you're living in "Pee Wee's Playhouse," though. For purists, this also features the original "Mr. Softee Theme" (1960) as its first track.

Either of these CDs would provide the perfect summer soundtrack for a child's lemonade stand, birthday party or ice cream social — or for an adult crying in the gutter as a parade float of clowns drifts by, silently staring. S

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