Itty-Bitty Review: Acoustic Dreamland (Putumayo) - Various Artists

AcousticDreamland.jpgThe sight of Nicola Heindl's illustration immediately brands it as a Putumayo disk. But take off the animated cover of Acoustic Dreamland, the latest collection from Putumayo Kids, replace it with some tastefully sepia-tinged photograph of, I don't know, a moon rising over a barn, and you could totally sell this collection at Pottery Barn, perhaps. Which is to say that this isn't so much a kids music album as it is just a kid-friendly album. But oh what a nicely curated album it is. I never would have pegged Wilco as a source for lullabies, but Mark Erelli's version of "My Darling" outshines the original, methinks. Ditto for Elizabeth Mitchell's cover of the Allman Brothers' "Blue Sky." Kids musicians aren't totally shut out here -- Frances England records a new song, "Here With Me," for the collection, and Kesang Marstrand lends a song from her excellent lullaby collection as well. As with many Putumayo disks, however, the value in the collection isn't so much the individual songs as much as it is the fact that someone has spent the time finding the tracks and saving the listener the effort. The album is appropriate for all ages, though the lullaby nature of means that you're more likely to spin it with kids ages 5 and less. You can sample some of the tracks here. I can totally see Acoustic Dreamland being used at nap time or quiet time or during a nighttime feeding. And, buried on a hard drive and stripped of its album art, long past your kids nap, eat at night, or are ever quiet, listened by you and you alone. Recommended.

Review Two-Fer: "Rock & Roll Playground" / "Jazz Playground" - Various Artists (Putumayo)

RNR_Playground.jpgAh, Putumayo Kids, you compiler and purveyor of music from around the world, you must be running out of themes, right? Rock & Roll Playground? Isn't there another region of the world you need to unearth some musical treasures from? What's next - Pop Playground? Hip-Hop Playground? (Actually, please get on that, stat.) Most regular readers have heard many of these tracks (or at least the artists), but credit Putumayo for having the sense to string 'em together in a happy-happy pop-rock mixtape with few if any duds. For example, Taj Mahal -> Dan Zanes -> Charity and the JAMband = win. (Or, Rhythm Child -> Rosie Flores -> Uncle Rock = win.) Best for kids ages 3 through 8 (samples here), you could probably put together your own 34-minute playlist, but why bother when they've already done the work for you? Recommended. JazzPlayground.jpgHaving said all that, Jazz Playground is my favorite of all the Putumayo "Playground" series disks, and that's saying something. The nature of jazz is such that it covers lots of styles and permits fresh interpretations of songs we've heard dozens if not hundreds of times before, and as a result, there's a nice mix of new and old, providing new perspectives -- and isn't that one of the major points of the Putumayo concept anyway? The album deftly navigates the line between over-reliance on English language voices (which you can get anywhere) and non-English language songs (which can be hard for English speakers to fully appreciate, no matter how funky the liner notes are). Beyond that, it's just plain fun through and through, from Zooglobble favorite Lewis Franco & the Missing Cats doing his swing original "Stomp, Stomp" to Chris McKhool's fiddle-based take on "Spider-Man" to the Latin jazz of Jose Conde's "Cumbamba." And on down the line. Best for kids ages 2 through 8, the 31-minute album (again, samples here) goes onto my shortlist of essential jazz-for-kids albums. Definitely recommended.

This Oran Etkin / Putumayo Kids Thing Might Just Work Out

JazzPlayground.jpgSeriously, check out Oran Etkin, whose duet with Charenee Wade on "Little Lamb Jam" is featured on the latest Putumayo Kids disk, Jazz Playground. I don't need much more than a tuba and Dizzy's "Salt Peanuts" to make me happy, and this collection of bits from a recent Jazz Playground Concert Tour concert in Philly has both. Let there be a long, fruitful partnership. Video from Etkin (plus a bonus video from the album) after the jump...

Share: "Little Lamb Jam" - Oran Etkin with Charenee Wade

JazzPlayground.jpgNext month sees the release of Putumayo's latest kid-friendly release, Jazz Playground, and to promote the disk, they're offering a free download (well, free except for giving up an e-mail address) of the swingin' minor-key "Little Lamb Jam" by Oran Etkin with Charenee Wade on vocals -- go here directly to sign up. You can also click on the Jazz Playground link above to hear the first 3 tracks from the album, including one of my favorite jazz-for-kids artists, gypsy jazz swing man Lewis Franco & The Missing Cats (see my review of his disk from a couple years ago here). Chris McKhool's take on "Spider-Man" is pretty cool, and it's hard to go wrong with the Cuban jazz of Jose Conde "Cumbamba." Full track listing after the jump

A Sleigh-Load of Christmas/Holiday CD Reviews

There's so much holiday music in the kids music genre that just listening to it all this year was a daunting task. I've got eight albums that grabbed my attention in one way or another; one of them is bound to please your family (unless you're looking for a solstice, Kwanzaa, or Festivus album). Let's start out with my 3 favorite albums of this particular season... KindieChristmas.jpgThe most ambitious kids music holiday album of the year comes courtesy of The Hipwaders, whose A Kindie Christmas isn't so much an album of Christmas music as much as it is a Christmas concept album, covering the emotions and anticipation of the season. It's a collection of all-original tunes, done in the Hipwaders power-pop/rock style. "It's Wintertime" is a great dance tune, and "Santa's Train" sounds like an outtake to a Johnny Cash Christmas album, but my favorite track here, maybe of the season, is "There's Too Much Good," a very affirming sentiment at this time of year. AndAHappyNewYear.jpgTo say that the collaboration of Danny Adlerman, Kevin Kameraad, and Yosi finally bridges the divide between Christian and Jewish holiday traditions makes ...And a Happy New Year sound a lot duller than it really is. In reality, the three kids rockers mostly take turns in providing songs, alternately deeply sincere ("Starlight" and "Two Sets of Footprints") and goofy (the "12 Days of Christmas" reworking "A Pickle for my Christmas Tree" and a cover of Tom Lehrer's "I'm Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica"). Featuring the season's hardest-rocking tune, the trio's cover of "Frosty the Snowman," it's an interfaith collection worth exploring regardless of whether you light menorah or advent candles. ExpressYourElf.jpgRobert Burke Warren, AKA Uncle Rock, spent time in London's West End performing a Broadway show but also rocked in far earthier terms. On Express Your Elf, Warren taps into both of those performing personalities. On the one hand, he offers a crooning take on "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and a peaceful "My Favorite Things" (a perfect holiday song, when you think about it). Those tracks share space with the rootsy original long-lost nugget "Santa's Coming in a Whirlybird" and a cover of "Feliz Navidad" that neatly weaves "La Bamba" into the mix. It's a tough (and close) call, but it's my favorite kids music holiday disk of the year. There are others for your listening pleasure. Read on for more...

Johnny Bregar Teaches You "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"

Well, if you have a mandolin, anyway. Want to learn the mandolin licks on Johnny Bregar's cool jazz-folk rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" found on the new Putumayo Family Christmas album? Bregar is at your service. You have four weeks -- that ought to be sufficient. Unless you need to buy a mandolin.