Friday, January 27, 2006

News: 2005 Grammy Nominations -- Children's Field

In the "better late than never" category (the nominations are, what, a month old now?), here are the nominees for the two categories in the Grammy's children's field:

Category 75 - Best Musical Album For Children
(For albums consisting of predominantly music or song vs. spoken word.)

Be Bop Your Best! - Red Grammer [Red Note Records]
Green Gorilla, Monster & Me - Ralph's World [Mini Fresh/Minty Fresh]
Scat Like That: A Musical Word Odyssey - Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer [Rounder Records Corp.]
Some Assembly Required - Tom Chapin [Razor & Tie]
Songs From The Neighborhood - The Music Of Mister Rogers - Various Artists (Dennis Scott, producer) [Memory Lane Syndications, Inc.]

Category 76 - Best Spoken Word Album For Children
(For albums consisting of predominantly spoken word vs. music or song.)

Harry Potter And The Half-blood Prince - Jim Dale [Listening Library]
Marlo Thomas & Friends: Thanks & Giving All Year Long - Various Artists (Christopher Cerf & Marlo Thomas, producers) [Warner Strategic Marketing]
Pooh's Heffalump - Roy Dotrice [Walt Disney Records]
Raymie, Dickie, And The Bean: Why I Love And Hate My Brothers - Ray Romano [Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers]
A Series Of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning - Various Artists (David Rapkin, producer) [Harper Children's Audio]

An appearance by Ralph's World at the Grammy telecast on February 8, 2006 seems highly unlikely. Perhaps Ricky Skaggs (a performer on the Mister Rogers tribute album) will make an appearance, but that will likely be the extent to which nominees in this category will be seen.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Review: Lullabies: A Songbook Companion - Baird, et a

Most lullaby CDs are a little bit painful for the parents to listen to. Cheesy instrumentation and American Idol-style over-emoting. Not to mention the same ten songs on each CD. There's only so many ways you can sing "All the Pretty Little Horses." (Or at least there are only so many ways I've heard.)

Thankfully the purpose of most lullaby CDs is such that we parents will not listen to them. But there are times, especially early on in a baby's life, when a little lullaby background music is nice for nursings or bottle-feedings.

So the collection from New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled Lullabies: A Songbook Companion came as a welcome relief from the other poor lullaby CDs I avidly bought before our first child's arrival. The album is a family affair -- parents Richard Kapp (piano) and Madeline Kapp (vocals) and daughters Julianne Baird (vocals) and Mela Tenenbaum (violin and viola). So you have classically-trained musicians playing real instruments and knowing when that over-emoting goes so far. (It's on here, but it's kept mostly in check.)

And when you have 35 tracks on the CD, clearly there will be a few tracks that will be new to you. The selection reaches across the globe ("Fais Dodo," "Suo Gan") and includes some classical instrumental tracks (such as Schumann's "Traumerei") that may very well be the most relaxing and sleep-inducing on the album.

The CD is available either on its own or accompanying a book with assorted child-related art from the Museum's collection and the sheet music. The book also gives the briefest of backgrounds on each song; such descriptions are omitted from the CD's liner notes. Both are available through the Museum itself or online retailers. If you're looking for a lullaby-related gift for parents-to-be, you need look no further than this CD. They may even be listening to it themselves long after their little one is sleeping through the night.

Review: Philadelphia Chickens - Sandra Boynton

It's funny what people remember from their youth. Meals at their grandparents, trips to Disneyland, their first kiss. One of my memories is of a white coffee mug with a cow with a befuddled expression standing on his (or her -- my memory isn't that good, nor was the drawing that detailed) hind legs on a patch of grass somewhere. On the other side, the text -- "For someone outstanding in their field"

Still gets me everytime.

The creator of that silly mug was illustrator and author Sandra Boynton, who besides countless children's books now has three albums of kid-friendly music to her credit.

Her second album, Philadelphia Chickens, was created with her musical collaborator Michael Ford in 2002. Unsurprisingly, given Boynton's talent for anthropomorphizing animals, many of the songs revolve around animals. Some of the songs do so very clearly, such as "Please, Can I Keep It?," an amusing story-song about a ravenous stray pet. Others focus more on their owners, such as the slightly funky "Fifteen Animals." And some have nothing to do with animals at all-- "BusyBusyBusy."

In the liner notes to the CD, Boynton mentions that the music came about as a result of her desire to make something a "little more nuanced" than the recordings of perky children's music her children were once given. She wanted to "create an album that would somewhat parallel the soundtrack that ran beneath [her] own childhood," including "Broadway show tunes." Some of the best songs on the album would be perfect in a Broadway review -- "Faraway Cookies" is a note-perfect song about longing. Longing about cookies, yes, but the emotion is surprisingly universal.

Another sign that Boynton was really trying to create a Broadway review is the list of performers -- they're much more familiar to fans of the stage and screen than to readers of Billboard. Meryl Streep, Laura Linney, Kevin Kline, even Scott Bakula -- they were recruited to sell the songs. Their voices are pretty good, but the songs are better than you would expect.

There's a wide variety of musical styles on the album, but you do have to have a tolerance for show tunes and moderate tempos. Kids aged 4 to 8 would probably appreciate this CD the most. You can either buy the CD separately or with an accompanying book with goofy Boynton drawings and sheet music that is just a bit too advanced for my rudimentary piano skills. The album is recommended, especially if you're looking for a change from your children's-oriented folk or rock music.

Oh, and if you want to know the source of this blog's name, check out "Nobody Understands Me." It's not just the mug that stuck with me.