Saturday, November 17, 2007

looking toward christmas: kidstuff

Is there a young child, or the parent of one, on your gift list? Here's music to consider for them.

Both parent an child will likely enjoy Down at the Sea Hotel. By turns as whimsical as the title cut, by Iowa singer songwriter Greg Brown, and as thoughtful as Steve Earle’s Nothing but a Child, which is sung together by many of the artists who contribute to this album, it’s a varied collection with top singers and songwriters offering familiar and less familiar songs by other top contemporary writers. Guy Davis singss a bluesy Midnight Lullaby, while Eliza Gilkyson delivers two of the really standout cuts on the disc, Midnight in Missoula and the Carole King classic Child of Mine. Other singers include Lucy Kaplansky, John Gorka, and Lynn Miles, on songs written by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tom Waits, and others.

Do kids themselves create songs that will hold up to repeated listening? Well, at the very least you know you’ll get a few topics adult writers might not at first choose. The Football Toad and Papaya People are two of those Rory Block helped the kids in her sons’ school classes bring to life on the album Color Me Wild. Block is known as an intense and powerful blues singer and guitarist, but she says “I also have a really off the wall sense of humor.” That probably came in really helpful when her children were small, which is when she put together this project.

A whole list of well known (and Grammy winning) musicians from Darrell Scott to Amy Grant joined up with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra and Paul Reisler’s Kid Pan Alley project to let kids see and experience what it’s like to create a song. The result: some lovely lullabyes, some funny stuff, and, well, a song about socks...

Tish Hinojosa offers a batch of songs both parents and children will enjoy on Cada Nino. Hinojosa is first generation Mexican American, and she draws on this background to remember in song trips to visit her grandmother back in Mexico and talk about some women of border history. Soon you and your kids will liklely be singing along with Hinojosa in both English and Spanish, especially on her hilarious imagining of what the vegetables get up to when we’re not looking, El Baile Vegetal/Vegetable Dance.

Jane Siberry offers a recording that’ll likely have you singing along too, although in a quieter way, as you might suspect from its title, Hush. This is Siberry in a relaxed folk mode, offering familiar songs including We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, All Through the Night, and The Water Is Wide. If you are in a lullaby frame of mind, you might want to look up Padraigin ni Uallachain's music, especially her recording Irish Lullaby. If you're looking more for humor, laughter, and challenge, then check out Celebrate the Difference, from Terri Hendrix.

Music on the album Mother is traditional, from Ireland, and original, out of the lives of the three artists who created this record, Susan McKeown, Robin Spielberg, and Cathie Ryan. It is music you probably have not heard before. Though it was intended for mothers, it works for mother, grandmothesr, and their children: It’s a powerful and loving celebration of the connections and disconnections and understandings that motherhood and making all life’s transitions invites. It’s also music that allows much as much space for the listener as it does for the artists who created it.

There are lively tunes and gracious ones, simple ones and complex, ones presented with sparse accompaniment and those with intricate acoustic support. Spielberg’s piano exploration without words of a walk with her mother, McKeown’s evocation of older times in Ancient Mother, the lively dance of joy of both child and grandparent in Ryan Grandma’s Song, each offer gifts of understanding and connection, as do the other songs on this collection.

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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