Well, I guess technically speaking I had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Josephine Cameron's recording of "Long Track Blues" was heard on NPR last night as part of a discussion with Nikki Giovanni on her new book/CD collection Hip Hop Speaks To Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat. But, hey, I did give Cameron's album American Songs Vol. 2 (and "Long Track Blues," first recorded for that CD) a good review last May, so that's got to count for something, right? OK, not really, but still, that's cool.
It's Memorial Day here in the United States, so I thought this review might be appropriate. Maine's Josephine Cameron is not an artist that typically would get much coverage on a kids' music website. That's because even though Cameron spends some of her time teaching songwriting to kids, she doesn't spend her time recording songs for kids. But just as her last album, Close Your Eyes (review) was a mellow CD that could pull double-duty as a lullaby album, so too her latest album, American Songs Vol. 2, could be a good folk song primer for slightly older kids. The album, released in late 2007 and a sequel to the first volume, released in 2002, consists of a number of traditional American folk songs mixed in with a few originals. Cameron puts just enough of her own spin on the more familiar songs to make them fresh without depriving them of the strengths that have made them classics. "Oh Susanna" is dialed-down a notch, emphasizing more of the sadness of the distance between the returning soldier and his love. "This Land Is Your Land" gets all the verses, with Cameron's ebullience at the end showing through. There is pleasure in the discovery of less-familiar songs, such as the waltz of "Gum Tree Canoe." And on "Evangeline" (co-written by Cameron and co-producer Anthony Walton), Cameron retells Longfellow's tale of Evangeline and Gabriel. I also really liked Cameron's, Walton's and arranger Carter Little's bluesy setting of Sterling A. Brown's poem "Long Track Blues." Cameron's slightly high-pitched voice (think Susanna Hoffs) is set off nicely against the understated guitar and mandolin work. I would be surprised if young kids enjoy this album much, but older kids, say those 8 and older, might enjoy listening to these songs. You can hear samples and download tracks here or at the 42-minute album's CDBaby page. Also, I highly recommend Cameron's notes on the songs, which are incredibly detailed. It's always nice to hear musicians thinking about how to record traditional folk music in a way that preserves what makes the song a classic but also brings the musician's own sensibilities to the song, thereby making it new once more. With American Songs Vol. 2, Cameron's done that. It's not necessarily a kids' album, but it's a good album.
News from Josephine Cameron that she'll be releasing one track a week for free from her upcoming September release American Songs Vol. 2 at Cameron's Myspace page. First up, "Oh Sister," which is actually a Cameron original, a slow track about friendship and support. There's nothing particularly kid-focused about the track (and it's probably too slow to keep younger kids engaged, at least on CD), but it sounds like it'll be at home among a host of other much more traditional songs. Fans of Cameron's last CD, Close Your Eyes (review) and other traditional music should make sure to stop by the Myspace page weekly as tracks are added...
Updating last week's update, here were few more sites I wanted to highlight... First, I've been a fan of Josephine Cameron, so I wanted to make sure I pointed out her two new websites -- a cool website all about Songwriting For Kids and a more traditional blog entitled Please Come Flying. The latter isn't really kids-related, though I'm sure a lot of older kids would appreciate her links (she's been on a particularly big jazz-related kick this month). As I've said for a long time, Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child is the Unofficial Radio Station of Zooglobble, and I'd say that even if I didn't have a guest DJ set on March 3rd. But variety is an important part of a healthy radio diet, so if you need more than one show, you'll probably also like The Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl. (But not live March 3rd. Then you want Spare the Rock.) Finally, Yosi's blog's been linked here for awhile now, but if you haven't checked out his recent series of interviews with Neal Pollack, Kevin Kameraad, and others, you really should.
Josephine Cameron's 2005 release Close Your Eyes isn't really a kids' music album, but at its core it's an album of lullabies both traditional and original, and that's enough to a merit a review here. Based in Maine, singer-songwriter Cameron has a winsome voice reminiscent of Susanna Hoffs -- it's not my perfect voice for lullabies, but Cameron's phrasing and the understated jazzy instrumentals (piano, a little guitar, occasional drums) serve the songs nicely. The CD starts out a bit too loud and emphatic for proper lullabying, though Cameron's duet with Anna Vodicka on a medley of All Night All Day/Swing Low (Sweet Chariot) is enjoyable nonetheless. Starting with track #5, "Dream a Little Dream," however, Cameron puts together a mellow set of melodies, concluding with a lovely wordless "Lullaby" (co-written by Cameron and her producer Anthony Walton). (You can here clips of most tracks here and of the title track here.) Close Your Eyes is a nice choice and recommended for listeners seeking a lullabies album that avoids the standard fare and arrangements.