Friday, June 24, 2005

Review: Songs For Wiggleworms - Old Town School of Folk Music

It doesn't take much to turn a tired old chestnut of a kids' song into one worth hearing. Usually a little bit of enthusiasm does the trick.

Songs For Wiggleworms, from Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, has 38 mostly classic kids' songs crammed into one 50-minute disc and has enthusiasm in spades. You've probably heard most of these songs ("Row, Row, Row Your Boat," "If You're Happy And You Know It...", etc.) but a few our family didn't know before hearing this CD. Regardless of whether the songs are new or old to you, your child (and you) will enjoy these lively renditions, sung by assorted musicians at the school (even Ralph Covert makes an appearance). The enjoyment of the musicians is evident in the renditions, whose occasionally ragged nature make it sound like you're sitting in an Old Town class. Thankfully, accompanied by little more than a guitar, if that, the musicians also stay away from "Star Search" vocal acrobatics.

There are some French-language and Spanish-language folk songs, too, along with a few non-kids songs ("Twist & Shout") to go along with the English-language classics. My favorite song on the album is "You Are My Sunshine," whose lyrics are modified slightly to eliminate the darker overtones of the original. And the songs I don't like? Well, as I said, there are 38 songs on a 50-minute CD -- just wait a minute, there'll be a new song coming up shortly. This CD is targeted at kids from birth to age 4 or 5.

The CD was out of print for a while, but is available once more here at Trust me, I've heard a number of nursery school song CD collections -- this is one you'll actually enjoy and the only one worth getting.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Review: Buzz Buzz - Laurie Berkner

The simplest kids' songs are sometimes the most effective -- Old McDonald's farm is not all that complex of an environment, yet it's a rare toddler or even pre-schooler who isn't somewhat amused by the song, particularly if it's delivered with gusto.

The best songs on Laurie Berkner's Buzz Buzz exemplify that truth. My all-time Berkner favorite, "Pig on Her Head," is about Berkner's family, who has a whole menagerie of animals on their noggins. (Heck, it's the sequel to "Old McDonald Had a Farm!") "I Really Love to Dance" is about a young kid who tries lots of different things but keeps coming back to dancing. Those originals are lots of fun. The covers are also performed with fun arrangements, such as the guitar, bass, piano, and kazoo used to provide a jaunty "I've Been Working on the Railroad." And her version of "There's A Little Wheel A-Turning In My Heart" uses the whole "change-one-thing-in-each-verse" to great effect.

Slightly less successful for me were longer songs that I think are more clearly designed for an interactive performance (e.g., "The Pretzel Store," "Lots of Little Pigs"). They're longer, so they're not quite as good if you (and your kids) are listening to the CD in the car. But if you're at home, and can convince your kids to act along, they'd be cute.

This is a fun, (mostly) upbeat CD and is recommended for children aged 2 to 6 years.

Berkner's CDs are available at her website, Two Tomatoes or all the finer book- and music stores.