Friday, April 30, 2010

Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child - Woody Guthrie

This sounds like someone followed Woody around his house and taped him as he made up songs for his kids on the spur of the moment. Ultra simple music with mostly nonsense-y lyrics and a lot of melody sharing going on - "Swimmy swim" has more or less the same tune as "Goodnight little darlin" and "I want my milk" has exactly the same tune as "Vigilante Man" (which isn't on here, obviously).

I absolutely love this! Myself and Niamh are constantly singing makey-uppy tunes for our own kids, and it's amazing to hear Woody Guthrie doing the same thing. It's charming and artless and really makes me smile. Heather loves it too, last night she had a sore throat and was very whingey, but dancing her around to this made her chuckle - and this morning we were singing "Swimmy swim" together all the way to her creche in the car with her squeaking with delight and pretending to splash the imaginary water.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tchaikovsky discovers America

It's 1891, Tchaikovsky is New York about to conduct a concert in Carnegie Hall (which is still under construction). He gets nervous about the show, and gets the train to Niagra Falls to chill out for a bit, accompanied by the family (Russian immigrant parents, American kids) he's staying with. The parents and kids get separated in the train station, and Tchaikovsky shoots the breeze with the kids on the journey - they discuss with him their Dad's plan to return to Russia, he waxes lyrical about the place and tells the kids snippets of the plot from his ballets. The story is not all that dramatic or informative, and Tchaikovsky himself sounds like he's from Waterford rather than Russia, but it's not bad, and the plot snippet from Swan Lake is very well done.

The music, which plays in the background, is brilliant. If you don't like classical music I'm not going to convince you here, but the music on this is catchy, dramatic and accessible and really very enjoyable - there's even a little piano ragtime version of a Tchaikovsky tune.

Beethoven Lives Upstairs is still my favourite Classical Kids CD I think, mostly because the story is better, but this is one of the best of the rest in the series.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wheels on the Bus

"25 favourite pre-school songs" from BBC Audio.

This pretty much epitomises all that is wrong with bad children's "music". Appalling.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Easy - Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

The kids were dancing as soon as I put this on for the first time last night. Jurassic 5-ish hip-hop with kid-oriented rhymes. There's stories like "The last dragon", some really cool descriptive child's-eye view stuff, and some positive-message tunes. "Message" songs often make me a bit squirmy - it's not actually true that you can be what you want to be if you only believe and work hard, now is it? - but these are mostly great:

"What ya gotta be?"

The music is really good too, with pucks of imagination and instruments you don't often hear in a hip-hop setting like harps and banjos. The guy's little girl is rapping on here too, and doing a fine job of it.

Thumbs up! I dig it!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mother Goose Remembers

Nursery rhyme CD with 40-something English nursery rhymes like Little Boy Blue, Hickory Dickory Dock, Humpty Dumpty, Three Blind Mice etc. Acoustic, with whistles and a guitar and an occasional accordion or fiddle or flute. Not as lively as I was hoping, but pretty good, and has some cool rhymes I hadn't heard before like "Peddler's song" and "Snow, snow faster".

Friday, April 23, 2010

Putumayo Kids presents African Dreamland

A lullaby CD containing music from Africa. The music's good, and the vibe is quiet and sleepy, but I haven't found this to be any good at putting my kids to sleep - I think the beat isn't steady enough, perhaps.

Click here for other lullaby albums from Putumayo Kids and elsewhere that actually do work

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wiggleworms Love You

Acoustic kids songs from the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. Includes English nursery rhymes like "Pease porridge hot", American traditional kids songs like "Polly Wolly Doodle" and "Oh Susannah" and other stuff in a similar vein, including a few songs with a bit of Spanish and French in them.

The nursery rhymes are the US versions, so, for example, in "Wheels on the Bus" the punchline is "all through the town" rather than "all day long". The English versions are so familiar to me that I find the different words oddly jarring, but that aside this is very good. Simple songs simply and effectively performed, à la Raffi. Recommended.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Songs from Inside the Radio - Greasy Kids Stuff

A compilation from a US kids radio show. The 2 opening tracks are cool surf-rock (mostly) instrumentals, but after that ... well there's the occasional decent tune (including one from indie rock icons Yo La Tengo) but most of them are ok at best, and some are really really terrible.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Singable songs for the very young - Raffi

This is one of my favourite kids albums ever - everything is really really simple but it's so well put together and performed it's just really enjoyable. Plus it has the added advantage that the songs are super easy to learn - at Isabelle's birthday party recently all the kids were dancing like crazy to me singing "Willoughby Wallaby Woo". Best audience I ever had.

Buy it, and other classic kids CDs, now at

Monday, April 19, 2010

Oxbridge Baby nursery rhymes

I'm normally dead set against programmed rather than played music, but this is actually not bad even though it sounds like chunks of it have been programmed. The arrangements are pretty interesting - there's a kind of reggae-ish version of Mary Had A Little Lamb right at the start, followed by a faintly jazzy Little Bo Peep, and it goes on in that genre-hopping vein.

The sound is ultra-clean, and the singers sound like BBC children's tv presenters - all of which kinda puts me off - but it's pretty decent nevertheless.

Friday, April 16, 2010

1001 Nights - Rimsky-Korsakov / Bernard Cribbins

Music from the symphonic suite "Scheherazade", written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (who also wrote "Flight of the Bumblebee") interspersed with stories from the Arabian Nights read by Bernard Cribbins. The stories are bizarre and chaotic and very bloodthirsty - "the genie threatened us both, then killed the girl, cutting off her hands and feet and then her head". Eek! The music sounds like what you'd imagine being played at a concert for 19th century Russian cavalry officers, people like Vronsky out of Anna Karenina. Not terribly enjoyable.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Wiggles Go Bananas

Isabelle says "Dad! I saw a programme about a band in gran's, and they were all wearing different colours and they were really cool" - she knows bands are important to me, y'see, and was real excited about it. "They even played Monkey Man, though it wasn't the real Monkey Man" (Toots and the Maytals' Monkey Man is a big favourite in our house). Then when we got the CD she was real excited too and wanted it on straight away ...

... and then she never asked to listen to it again, which is just as well, because it's rubbish.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

For the kids

This is a compilation from 2002 performed by some fairly well known US artists. It starts off great, with a kicking version of The Muppets' "Mahna mahna" from Cake. The next few tracks are really good too, although there's too much variation in tempos - I find for an album to work for my kids it has to be fairly consistent in tone, and a slow song following a few upbeat numbers totally loses their interest. And thereafter the quality really starts to dip, alas - lots of second rate grown-up songs masquerading as kids music, and some real clunkers. And whoever wrote that "It's alright to cry" song obviously doesn't have kids themselves - my kids certainly don't need any encouragment when it comes to crying.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Where the wild things are

This is the music from the ballet version of "Where the wild things are". I've been a fan of the book since I was a kid, even though it terrified me then and still does now, there's something about the illustrations that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The first time I read it for Isabelle there was sweat running down my spine and I was regretting having brought it into the house - it seems I succeeded in masking my fear though because it was a big favourite of hers for a while.

Anyway it occurred to me that it'd make great source material for a ballet and so I googled "wild things ballet" and it turned out someone had already written one. Bah. It's not exactly what I'd have done, but it is good. Not really what you'd expect kids to be into, given that it's contemporary classical music and therefore kinda discordant and weird-sounding and not exactly singalongable, but it's got lots of rhythmic intrigue and Isabelle digs it

Friday, April 9, 2010

World Playground

Child-friendly music from 5 continents, including Cedella Marley's version of Bob's "Three little birds", an aboriginal version of "Waltzing Matilda", Manu Chao's "Bongo bong" and lots more. Like most Putumayo Kids stuff it's pretty gentle, and though I (and, more often than not, the kids) tend to prefer stronger flavours this is good and very good in places. One of Niamh's favourites.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Putumayo Kids presents Brazilian Playground

At first I thought this was insipid, but now I've gotten fond of it. It's quite gentle, but all the tunes have these cool danceable little Brazilian rhythms. Tuneful too, and Heather really likes it. Nice!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Beethoven's Wig 2

More funny/silly lyrics set to classical favourites. This is just as good as the first one, amusing enough for me to sit down and listen the whole way through, chuckling away to myself.

"When you're an opera star
With a large repertoire
How do you please the crowd?
Sing Verdi very loud!"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Juice Box Heroes - Imagination Movers

Funky, commercial, clean-sounding American pop/rock, with some hip-hop and ska flavours and lots of "HEY!"s. It drags a bit in parts (mostly on the more straight up rock songs), but when they bring on the horn section and turn up the funkiness it's tremendous danceable fun.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Rocket Ship Beach - Dan Zanes and friends

I like this a lot. Mostly acoustic, old-timey sounding kids songs with acoustic guitars and double bass. Both traditional (American nursery rhymes and the like) and originals, mixed in with a bit of a West Indian vibe here and there. Like 'O Brother Where Art Thou' with some extra spices. Some cameos from more famous artists, like Suzanne Vega and Sheryl Crow, but it'd be just as good without them.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Hallelujah Handel

One of the Classical Kids series. The basic format for these is some kind of narrative with music from the featured composer interwoven with the text (sometimes in the background, sometimes in the foreground). The story here is Handel and someone called Caterina reminiscing about an orphan called Thomas who, when they meet him, won't talk but will only sing.

Not as good as "Beethoven lives upstairs" in the same series (which you can buy here, along with other children's classical music) - it's a little bit overacted and the story isn't as compelling - but there's some good music on here and the story is diverting enough. Kept Isabelle amused for an hour in the car.