Wednesday, December 08, 2004

News: Children's Grammy Noms Announced

The Grammy nominations were announced yesterday and the nods for the two children's categories are:

Best Musical Album For Children (For albums consisting of predominantly music or song vs. spoken word.)

> Beethoven's Wig 2 - More Sing Along Symphonies - Beethoven's Wig [Rounder Kids]
> cELLAbration! A Tribute To Ella JenkinsVarious Artists - Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, producers [Smithsonian Folkways Recordings]
> House Party - Dan Zanes And Friends [Festival Five Records]
> Merry Fishes To All - Trout Fishing In America [Trout Records]
> Sharing Cultures With Ella Jenkins - Ella Jenkins [Smithsonian Folkways Recordings]

Best Spoken Word Album For Children (For albums consisting of predominantly spoken word vs. music or song.)

> The Best Halloween Ever - Elaine Stritch [Harper Children's Audio]
> Carnival Of The Animals - John Lithgow [Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers]
> The Emperor's New Clothes - Peter Schickele [Newport Classic]
> Green Eggs And Ham And Other Servings Of Dr. Seuss - Various Artists John McElroy, producer[Listening Library]
> The Story Of Classical Music - Marin Alsop [Naxos Audio Books]
> The Train They Call The City Of New Orleans - Tom Chapin [Live Oak Media]

The Grammys will be televised Feb. 13, 2005, although I would be surprised to see either of these categories awarded during the broadcast.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Review: Catch the Moon - Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell

An increasingly popular approach to recording kids' CDs is packaging the CD with a book. In some cases, like Philadelphia Chickens and Rhinoceros Tap from Sandra Boynton or Bed, Bed, Bed by They Might Be Giants, the hardcover book is pretty big, and doesn't necessarily lend itself to play with a preschooler. But the ubiquitous "board book" format is beginning to become popular with recording artists.

Now, the first question with any of these book/CD combos is… "Where in the world do you file these things?" With the oversized hardcovers, it seems they get exiled to places far from the stereo or car CD player and just don't get much airplay. The board book versions (this CD, the Dan Zanes CDs) solve that problem by having books that are barely larger than the CD itself. Of course, filing them with the rest of the CDs means that they rarely get read. Oh, the waste!

Maybe I'm just too hard to please.

Well, not really. And this CD does have an advantage in that it is quite pleasing. Mitchell is known, of course, for her 2 children's CDs, You Are My Flower and You Are My Sunshine. Loeb is new to the children's music game, known best for, well, winsome pop. Together, they've made an album that isn't much different from Mitchell's two solo CDs, except that maybe it's a little more polished (but still somewhat winsome). It's also a little more international, as the album includes renditions of traditional Spanish, Japanese, and French songs. (They're pleasant enough, but don't have huge appeal to me.) That seems to be the Loeb influence; fans of Mitchell's out-of-left-field (though usually excellent) cover song selections for her kids' CDs will be pleased by the inclusion of Dylan's "New Morning."

The best track on the album by far is the title track, an original by Mitchell, Loeb, and Mitchell's writing partners. "Catch the Moon" isn't just a great kids' song, it's a great song, period. It's a gentle pop song that would be a minor Billboard hit in a more eclectic radio world.

The album is probably best for kids aged 2 years (or even) through maybe 5 years. The accompanying book is a nice addition. I would recommend the album to fans of Mitchell's other work, as well as to parents looking for a mellow, poppy, multi-cultural kids' CD.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Review: You Are My Flower - Elizabeth Mitchell

[Read the review of Mitchell's latest -- You Are My Little Bird -- here...]

Elizabeth Mitchell helped found the rock band Ida with her husband Daniel Littleton. Unlike children's artists who have given up their "adult" careers or artists like They Might Be Giants, who are now doing both under the same name, Mitchell has kept her "adult" and "children's" careers separate. I have never heard Ida, so I have absolutely no idea what they're like, but You Are My Flower, the children's CD the two of them recorded together, is wonderful. If you like simple folk tunes polished up just a bit to take the roughest of edges off, you probably will enjoy this CD, which includes renditions of a couple Woody Guthrie children's songs. They also cover a song by the blues artist Leadbelly and two by the Carter Family, so you know it¹s not a typical kid's CD. (In fact, this was one of the first children's music CDs I would play even if there were no kids around. The entire album is pretty mellow, but lots of fun (my favorite songs are "This Little Light of Mine" and "Freight Train"). The CD is appropriate for kids from birth to 5 or so. My only complaint is that the CD is only about 25 minutes long (but, hey, it makes up for the kids' CDs that are way too long). You can find more information on Mitchell, this CD, and their follow-up at

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Review: No! - They Might Be Giants

The band They Might Be Giants are elder statesmen of what has sometimes been called "geek rock." The band has been recording albums for close to 20 years, and for most of that time they aimed their records right at your typical rock-listening audience of high schoolers and those with high school in their rear view mirror. But if you see them live, you'll find something unusual for rock concerts -- little kids on their parents' shoulders.

In 2002 the band released No!, their first album specifically for kids. Some of the songs could just as easily have been released on an album for adults (indeed, some have been concert staples of theirs for years). Some of the songs are very simple, if somewhat skewed. "I Am Not Your Broom" and "I Am a Grocery Bag" are about, well, what their titles say. Other songs, however, are significantly more complex, both in instrumentation (full band!) as well as song structure. "The House At the Top of the Tree" has a Memento-like storytelling structure. (Oddly enough, that song is one of my 3-year-old daughter's favorites, and thanks to constant repetition, she's probably better at the lyrical intricacies than I am.) "Bed Bed Bed" is a 6-year-old's version of the Beatles' "Day in the Life" off of Sgt. Pepper's, complete with the sound of a placid ping pong game buried deep in the mix at the end.

I would recommend TMBG CDs to kids of all ages (they're the one rock band I don't have any problem playing for our daughter), but this CD is probably best for kids age 3 - 8. There are a number of wonderful songs on the CD -- the first three ("Fibber Island," "Four of Two," "Robot Parade") are particularly strong. The CD is interactive, with lots of games (sort of) you can play while listening to the songs. You can also go to for more TMBG kiddie-related goodness.

Friday, October 29, 2004

My Approach to Kids' Music

This blog grew out of a series of articles I wrote for my wife's parenting group newsletter. I enjoy listening to (and playing) music, I have an opinion about a lot of music, and -- most importantly for a newsletter author or blogger -- am fool enough to want to write about it. That was all that necessary to spend a page or two rambling on about kids' music. (Much of this entry is from my first newsletter article.)

We own maybe a couple dozen children's CDs and have listened to maybe a dozen more (though both figures are slowly growing). Our daughter is now about 3 1/2 years old and is only now expressing her musical preferences. Of course we want our daughter to listen to music she enjoys, that makes her happy.

But since you, the parent, will listen to the CDs and tapes almost every time your kids do, I think your (and my) opinion counts nearly as much as the child's. And you're still going to be able to offer your kids new, good stuff, so it's not like you're stuck listening to that [insert name of CD that makes you twitch just thinking about it.]

In this blog I'll write about a number of different CDs, spending more time on the good stuff than the bad for two reasons: 1) I'm not nearly catty enough to write enjoyable reviews about bad music, and 2) I want to focus on the good stuff.

I should probably explain my beliefs about children's music:

1) Good kids' music is enjoyable for adults, too: I think the best kids' music can be enjoyed by kids and parents alike. This is true not only critically -- like Bugs Bunny cartoons, great kids music appeals to multiple generations -- but also practically. If you don't like a kids' CD, you are unlikely to play that CD very often, which probably means your child won't become a fan of it, either. (Or, alternately -- and sadly -- you'll be stuck listening to a painful CD over and over as your child wants to hear the same song over and over and Over and OVER!) In the end, "family music" is probably a better phrase than "kids' music," but sounds sort of dorky and plus Borders and Barnes & Nobles across the country would need to relabel their sections, so I think we're stuck with "kids'" or "children's" music.

2) Not all good adults' music is enjoyable (or even suitable) for kids: I don't think my daughter would like my Nirvana's "Nevermind" CD; even if she did, I wouldn't want her to listen to it for a few years. (Even if I really like the CD, which I do.) No, good kids' music is generally simpler melodically, lyrically, and rhythmically, plus you can usually understand what's being sung. (Clear enunciation was never Kurt Cobain's strong point musically.) Now please don't think I'm saying you should never play "your" music around your kids. You need to play music for yourself, and as I've noted above, some music really is for the entire family. But if you think that your 2-year-old is getting something out of listening to Tool, I think you're wrong.

3) Did I say simple was good?: I've heard CDs which seemed to have been produced by some guy in his basement with a Casio synthesizer with his cousin singing over-emoted versions of simple folk songs. If the song was sung quietly by moms to kids with no accompaniment 100 years ago, it's unlikely a cheesy synthesizer with faux strings will somehow add a layer of meaning or emotion. It's OK to have multiple instruments, but at least make sure they're real.

4) Who are you anyway?: OK, we're at silly, yet oddly accurate, predictors of a CD's quality. (Sort of like all those methods for predicting unborn babies' gender.) The best albums have the participants' names plastered all over the CD, just like "adult" music. I've never listened to a good album in which I didn't know exactly who was responsible. It's as if makers of bad CDs are embarrassed by what they've produced. If you can't see who's singing or playing on the CD, move away.

5) No "Stairway to Heaven": Do you want to listen to 4 minutes of "Old MacDonald Had A Farm"? ("And on this farm he had an ocelot...") I didn't think so. Kids don't have long attention spans, and most classic kids songs don't have much more than 60 seconds of material. So my basic rule is that kids' CDs shouldn't average much more than 2 minutes per song. This rule can be bent for CDs targeted at older kids, whose attention spans are (hopefully) longer, and for lullaby CDs.

Finally, I think you should know my personal musical preferences so if they closely match (or are opposed to) yours, you can take that into account in evaluating my recommendations. I particularly enjoy the following artists, among others: Wilco, the Jayhawks, Spoon, REM, They Might Be Giants, Matthew Sweet, U2, Lyle Lovett, Kelly Willis, Patty Griffin, Miles Davis and most classical chamber music.

So there you have it -- my children's music philosophy in a nutshell. I hope you'll visit in the weeks and months to come as review children's music CDs and post some news on childrens' music.

Friday, August 27, 2004


Welcome to Zooglobble! It's my hope that this blog/website will become a reference site for great kids' music that parents can enjoy as well. If you like Ralph's World, Laurie Berkner, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Justin Roberts, among others, stop by on a regular basis for news, reviews, and goodness knows what else. It might take some time, but we'll build this up to something worth your time.

Thanks in advance for your time and patience.