A review of some listenable children’s CDs by Adoption Journey Blog
Megson – When I Were A Lad… (A Collection Of Children’s Folk Songs).
Jumping Through Hoops – Rockin’ To The Fiddle
Tim Hart And Friends –My Very Favourite Nursery Rhyme Record
Rain For Roots – Big Stories For Little Ones / The Kingdom Of Heaven Is Like This
Music has always been a huge thing for me. Growing up, all my hobbies and social activities seemed to revolve around music of one sort or other. So, it’s hardly surprising that one of many cherished memories of intros with our little boy is a musical one. On one of our first solo flights (out to do some shopping and then on to the play park) Thin Lizzy’s Waiting for an Alibi came on the car stereo. As the twin lead guitars on faded out at the end of the song a tiny voice piped up from the back of the car “More! More!” accompanied by the sound of two tiny hands clapping enthusiastically. That’s my boy! Fast forward a couple of years and we have ensured that music is a central part of our little one’s life. And that includes listening to music around the home and the car.
So a couple of Christmas presents this year served to illustrate the variability of the kids’ music that’s available out there. In our munchkin’s Christmas stocking was a double CD from the Early Learning Centre called In The Car 2. A bizarre collection of tunes ranging from the expected like Hickory Dickory Dock or Three Blind Mice to rather left field selections like Ghostbusters and Bananas In Pyjamas. All of these were presented in a resolutely cheesy fashion with a smattering of out of tune kids from the local stage school singing along as the icing on the cake. Instrumentation seemed to be courtesy of the finest Casio keyboard that £19.99 could buy you at your local Argos. “In The Car”? I was pretty sure that a long journey down the motorway in the company of this CD would require me to gnaw my own arm off, just to maintain my own psychological well-being.
So is there a viable alternative? Can you listen to a nursery rhyme and retain both your rock’n’roll credibility and your sanity? It is at times like these where one is simply driven to utter the “F” word… Yes, FOLK!
Now wait a minute before you decide to stop reading and turn of the computer… In these days when Mumford and Sons play Wembley and get awarded Grammys the idea of settling down to some well played acoustic music shouldn’t be such a foreign idea. And after all, what are the nursery rhymes and action songs we sing with our kids if not folk songs in their truest sense? And it just so happens that over the last few years some excellent child-focused British folk and Americana-based albums have been released. These really are well worth checking out.
Last year husband and wife folk duo Megson released the other Christmas pressie I mentioned earlier – When I Was A Lad… (A Collection Of Children’s Folk Songs). This album brings together a number of traditional folk songs like The Riddle Song (‘I gave my love a cherry without a stone…’), Dance To your Daddy (‘When the boat comes in…’) and A Frog He Would A Wooing Go with some brilliantly observed and, frankly hilarious, modern songs written by the duo themselves. These are all set about with an array of traditional folk instruments. Banjos, acoustic guitars, drums and double bass add up to a mix that strides across lines of authenticity and contemporary sounds. What sets this album apart from the vast proposition of kids’ music is that Megson are a talented band in their own right with a growing reputation across the UK folk circuit. The fact that they are also young parents builds strengths into the album. They will have road tested these tracks to the most unforgiving of audiences. And even the new songs have a quality which will tickle adults and children alike. Baby And The Band is a slightly surreal tale of a family folk band where ‘…Baby plays the banjo and doggie plays the drums. Grandma plays the bass guitar with nothing but her thumbs…’ attached to the catchiest of tunes. And with All The Shops Have Fallen Down the older kids will giggle at the thought of buying a lump of meat that smells like grandma’s feet or a pair of tights full of fleas of mites. What Megson have put together is just a really listenable album in its own right. The fact that it is equally entertaining and accessible to children and adults alike is a real bonus.
Jumping Through Hoops’ album, Rockin’ The Fiddle adopts a similar old and new approach but takes it across the pond and into the American bluegrass tradition. The brainchild of Dr Kari Groff, a child psychologist who also happens to be part of the Brooklyn fiddling community, it is again aimed squarely at both children and adults. Realised with the help of key members of bluegrass supergroups Uncle Earl and The Punch Brothers it is infused with spirit and propelled along with lively guitars and fiddle playing. Once again the album draws together traditional favourites like Shortnin’ Bread and Liza Jane with equally catchy originals. Whether old or brand new, each tune catches the ear. Once again the lullabies lull and the jigs set the toes tapping. Resolutely uplifting and empowering in its lyrics it is an enjoyable listen which easily bears the repeats which in-car listening requires. Given its genesis in a local New York fiddling community, the album isn’t widely available in the UK but can be easily purchased online at http://jthkids.com/. Groff is developing a follow-up collection under the name of The Bright Siders which aims to look at the various issues and difficulties which children can experience in a light-hearted and accessible manner. This should be particularly interesting for those with slightly older kids. The first two tracks are available to download for free at Bandcamp.
Staying with an Americana theme, if you are looking for Bible story songs for little ones which don’t come with a large serving of Gorgonzola then Rain For Roots’ Big Stories For Little Ones is worth hunting down online too. It was created by a collective of country singer-songwriter mums from Nashville, all of whom were taken by the Sally Lloyd-Jones books of bible story rhymes for very young children. It sets a number of these poems to a gentle, rootsy background. Simple, charming and immediately engaging it would be perfect for younger children especially. The acoustic guitars and tastefully employed country instrumentation makes it easy on the ear for adults too. It can be purchased online at Amazon or a sampler downloaded for free from Noisetrade. A second album called The Kingdom Of Heaven Is Like This has just been released and can be purchased through www.rainforroots.com.
But none of this provides us with listenable versions of familiar nursery rhymes or Rhymetime favourites. For these we need to take a little trip back in time. At the very end of the 1980s Steeleye Span founder members, Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, were also struggling to find some listenable music for their own children and so they decided to show the world how it should be done. This resulted in two CDs, My Very Favourite Nursery Rhyme Record and Drunken Sailor And Other Kids’ Songs. A few years ago these were collected together in a double CD set – Tim Hart and friends: My Very Favourite Nursery Rhyme Record.
Together, the two CDs collect a host of familiar nursery rhymes and favourite children’s songs. From Sing A Song Of Sixpence to Humpty Dumpty or Oranges And Lemons to Baa, Baa Black Sheep, all are present and correct. Alongside these are thrown in some excellent children’s folk songs from the UK and US – The Riddle Song, Over The Hills And Far Away, Who Killed Cock Robin, Hush Little Baby and many others. Now to be fair, some of the keyboard and drum machine sounds on the album have dated a little less than gracefully over the years but it’s still a hugely listenable collection. I guess this is in part due to the experience and skill of Hart and Prior and the fact that the “friends” they drew in to play on the album were some of the crème de la crème of the UK folk and session world – and it’s clearly a bunch of muso mums and dads who are thoroughly enjoying themselves. While most songs are given a fairly straightforward folk-rock treatment, the country feel of Old MacDonald or the calypso swing of Hush Little Baby show that tongues are firmly in cheeks and grins are on faces. In fact, it’s the perfect in-car family singalong fodder.
So where else can a desperate parent turn for listenable kids music? Well, there are some great Disney collections out there – the triple CD Ultimate Disney comes highly recommended for bringing together all the prerequisite favourites in their original soundtrack versions. It also throws in a bonus singalong/karaoke CD for good measure. Then, of course, there are 90’s popsters, They Might Be Giants who have also carved out a niche with several quirky educational albums aimed at kids. But since these could hardly be described as “folk” perhaps that is a review for another day…
Megson – When I Was A Lad… (A Collection Of Children’s Folk Songs). http://www.megsonmusic.co.uk/
Jumping Through Hoops – Rockin’ To The Fiddle & The Bright Siders. http://jthkids.com/ http://thebrightsiders.bandcamp.com/
Tim Hart And Friends –My Very Favourite Nursery Rhyme Record. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Very-Favourite-Nursery-Rhyme-Record/dp/B003334SJ0/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1393973710&sr=1-1
Rain For Roots – Big Stories For Little Ones & The Kingdom Of Heaven Is Like This. http://rainforroots.com/
Various – Ultimate Disney. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ultimate-Disney-3CD-Various-Artists/dp/B00F9NC17S/ref=pd_sim_m_h__1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1PDC8H3Y7PNPEEM1MRTM