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.
I doubt Lester Bangs used the word "gentle" to describe music in his reviews, but he probably didn't write reviews of kids music too often. There's no better word, however, to describe Timmy Abell's 2005 album Little Red Wagon. On his fourth music album (he has recorded albums of stories as well), the North Carolina-based Abell blends modern folk songs of his own with traditional folk songs familiar to many. If there is any unifying component to the album it is the sense of, well, gentleness that pervades the songs in both treatment and theme. Abell is an accomplished musician, and one of the pleasures of listening to the album is the nifty playing of both Abell (who plays banjo, guitar, and hammered dulcimer, among other instruments, on the album) and the other musicians. The musicianship is particularly noticeable on the traditional (and silly) "Turkey in the Straw" and the brief but sweet Abell original "Rounded Glass Jig," with what I believe to the hammered dulcimer making a beautiful sound on the latter. No matter whether uptempo ("Turkey" or "I'm My Own Grandpa") or subdued ("Jig" or the pleasant title track), the songs exude a sense of calm. Over an entire album, it may be a little too much gentleness, but there's a sense of unity to the songs. Not all of the lyrics are specifically kid-focused, but those that are have some style to them. "Going To Grandma's" weaves various modes of transportation into a zippy little (and true) narrative about the many different types of vehicles used to get from one distant place to another. "Secrets" is a textbook example of how to write a children's song with moral content, illustrating the point rather than lecturing the listener. The song combines a nifty metaphorical chorus ("A cat in a bag becomes very uncomfortable / Birds in a cage become eager to fly") with verses about the progress of a secret through the narrator's circle of acquaintances to show what happens to secrets rather than saying "Secrets Are Bad!" It's a neatly effective track. Like many folk albums, there's nothing that would prevent playing this album for very young kids, but lyrically it's probably most appealing to kids 4 through 8. You can hear samples and read lyrics for the album here (click on the Little Red Wagon album cover) and purchase the album either at Abell's website or other retailers (online or iTunes). As noted above, the album is a very gentle folk album, and if you don't think that will appeal to you, there's nothing on the album that would change your mind. But I've heard Abell compared to a younger Pete Seeger and I think that the comparison is a pretty good one. Abell's clear voice and use of the folk tradition are reminiscent of Seeger in his prime. The album is a pleasant retreat from more active, more modern kids' music. Recommended.