When I say that Wag Your Tail, Jamie Barnett's third, recently-released album of kids music is gentle, don't mistake that for bland. As with his previous CD, Just Look At You (review), on his new disk the California-based Barnett rarely rocks, but there's beauty of different sorts there. Sure, there might be a lead single of sorts in the almost-peppy "Waterbottle," with its catchy chorus ending in the delightfully tongue-pleasing phrase "Packed myself a snack sack / Put in my backpack / Got a water bottle / Full of water." For the most part, however, Barnett is content to explore the gentler side of life, like the ecosystem around a single tree ("This Tree"), pets (the title track) or tiny pleasures ("Lemonade"). The music will remind you a bit of John Prine or perhaps John Hiatt, though with about 1% of the trials and tribulations their music brings to mind. The album concludes with 4 traditional songs designed for singing along and playing along. If they don't quite fit with the production on the rest of the album, they do fit philosophically with Barnett's sing-along approach (as with the prior CDs, Barnett's kids and friends join in on the fun throughout the disk). Think of it as a separate EP appended to the end of the disk. The 46-minute album's most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. You can hear clips at the album's CDBaby page. With Wag Your Tail, Barnett isn't making any great artistic statement other than appreciating the world we live in on a daily basis. Which, come to think of it, isn't a bad artistic statement to make. Recommended.
When I originally talked about my latest piece for Education.com, "Albums To Tame the Savage Beast," with my editor there, she made it clear that she wasn't looking for a list of lullaby albums, because the site focuses on kids aged preschool on up. So these are five albums designed for quiet time for slightly older kids. Raffi's Quiet Time makes the list, natch, but rest assured that all five CDs will work well for times when everybody needs to take it down a notch. If you fall asleep on the couch while listening some afternoon and your kids pull all the pots and pans out of the cabinets while you're sleeping, I can't be held responsible.
For those of you who find CDs with not one, but two, duets between adults and kids well, not worth your time, please move on. You won't like this disk. (Are they gone? Good.) It's a risk, of course, anytime you let a younger child sing lead on an album, but on Just Look At You, the 2005 release from California-based schoolteacher and occasional musician Jamie Barnett, the payoff is more fulfilling than a chorus of KidzBoppers. So is the album itself, a gentle mix of guitar-based folk and other styles with a warm lyrical content. On "The Sun Shines," Barnett duets with his niece Alyssa, and when he describes her as singing "bravely" in the liner notes, the description is apt -- it sounds just like your niece might sound like, and it fits perfectly. On the soft and funky blues "I Love Pancakes," Barnett is backed by a ragged kids' chorus, as he is on a few other tracks. Which isn't to say Barnett is entirely dependent on the younger voices -- perhaps the best track is "Goldilocks," a retelling of the fairy tale that is remiscent in both the tone and the vocals of John Prine's "Jesus - The Missing Years": "She’s not a bad person but I’m telling you / My friend Goldilocks she does things she shouldn’t do / She walks into people’s houses but she doesn’t really care / That she doesn’t even know the people who are living there" Add to that the retelling of the Montgomery bus boycott ("381 Days"), which is given just enough lyricism ("When Rosa Parks sat down / The people around / Did not even know what they saw / What they were looking at then / Was the beginning of the end / Of a hateful unjust law") and a singalong chorus to lift it above most history lessons set to music, and the entire album is suffused with warmth. I think kids ages 3 through 8 are most likely to appreciate the 31-minute album, though its mostly gentle nature may make it appropriate for quiet time for even younger ones. You can hear samples of all the tracks here. Just Look At You is a quietly powerful album, which shows, among other things, how courage can come from taking a stand or just singing along. For a change of pace from brighter, shinier pop, Barnett's album is an excellent choice. Recommended.