Video: "Siete Elefantes" - Mister G (World Premiere!)

Los Animales album cover

Los Animales album cover

Over the past few years, Massachusetts-based Ben Gundersheimer -- best known to the under-6 set as Mister G, has released a number of albums partially or even predominantly in Spanish, and he shows no sign of stopping that trend.  He's just released Los Animales (the album title's a pretty good clue as to the album's theme and primary language) and to celebrate, the album's first video for its title track, world-premiered here!

Mister G teams up with the same folks who created the animated video for "Cocodrilo" -- director Leo Antolini and animator Andrea Cingolani.  This one's every bit as charming as that one, a rainbow of animals.  Non bastante!   More, please!

Mister G - "Los Animales" [YouTube]

Best Lullaby Albums

It was foolish, perhaps, but I went ahead and did it anyway -- I boiled down more than a decade's worth of listening (and more than a half-century's worth of recordings) to what I thought were the five most essential albums for new parents.  Despite my trepidations in providing such a list (including the insanity in thinking that such a list could even be limited to five), it seemed to be well-received.

So now I'm providing my second list of top albums -- this time, it's my list of best lullaby albums.

Before I provide my list, I should note that, unlike the broader set of albums for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, as far as I can tell there weren't nearly as many lullaby albums dating back a half-century -- I can't find evidence that Pete Seeger or Ella Jenkins, for example, bothered recording a specific album of just lullabies.  That is an interesting musicological question worth exploring, but not today.  In any case, the upshot is that the notion of a "classic" or "best" lullaby album is far less settled than it was for the "new parents" list above.

As a result, this list feels more idiosyncratic to me than that other list, like I'm going out more on a limb.  I do have a particular preference for lullaby albums in a way I might not for kids music albums generally and that preference is for music that would conceivably be played to lull a young child back to sleep.  I have memories of taking the 3 AM feeding shift, or of calming a restless infant, and sometimes (some of) these albums were the soundtrack for that. In my experience, many lullaby albums seem far too hyper and vocally piercing to be very useful for that quiet, darkened room.

So, with that, here are my five picks, listed alphabetically by artist.


Lullabies: A Songbook Companion cover

Lullabies: A Songbook Companion cover

Julianne Baird, Madeleine Kapp, Mela Tenenbaum & Richard Kapp: Lullabies (A Songbook Companion) (1997) -- This might have been the first lullaby album we had that we truly enjoyed, so it's possible that personal affinity drives this selection more so than most.  But as with the other albums here, even today it holds up very, very well.  With piano, violin, and viola accompanying the vocalists, this is unsurprisingly by far the most traditional (and classical) album of all those listed.  It covers a wide range of lullaby songs from not only the English-language tradition, but also others.  There are also a handful of instrumental tracks that serve as nice counterpoints to the vocals.  And while a few tracks are more emotive than I'd prefer, on the whole, it's both thorough and gorgeously done -- a one-stop lullaby shop.

Now the Day Is Over album cover

Now the Day Is Over album cover

The Innocence Mission: Now the Day Is Over (2004) -- This album more closely resembles the majority of the lullaby albums here -- unique interpretations of songs, only some of which might originally have been considered lullabies.  This is the band's only venture into the kids music world, and were it not for the cartoon-y cover art, the listener might not necessarily file it there at all.  Low-key, minimally-arranged, the "hushed" on this album is dialed up to 11.  Singer-songwriter Karen Peris' voice is distinctive and has a bit of a distinctive taste, but I've heard this album so many times that I can't think of many of the songs they cover ("Stay Awake" and "Moon River," among others, along with some instrumentals and one original) without it.  Definitely a secret to be passed from one fan to another.

Napper's Delight album cover

Napper's Delight album cover

Dean Jones: Napper's Delight (2007) -- First, yes, that's an awesome album title.  But moving beyond that, this is probably the most daring lullaby album on here (it's the one whose inclusion on the list I took the most time debating).  How many times do you hear drum machines on lullaby albums, or at least on lullaby albums you want to listen to repeatedly?  More so than the other albums listed, this is also more of a journey as the first few songs aren't super-sleepy.  But give it a few songs and by the time Elizabeth Mitchell lends her vocals to "Grow Little Flower," the relaxed vibe is definitely established.  Jones' eclectic taste in instrumentation (see drum machine above) makes this the most unique album here -- definitely not a lullaby album in the strictest definition of the phrase, but a superb take on sleepy time and relaxation.

All Through the Night album cover

All Through the Night album cover

Mae Robertson & Don Jackson: All Through the Night (1995) -- I don't even remember how I first heard this album.  I think it was probably one of the (comparatively) few (at the time) kids music CDs at the library, but I remember playing it over and over in a darkened nursery.  Robertson has a lovely voice, but doesn't oversell (i.e., over-emote on) the songs.  Her choice of songs -- relatively few of which would be considered lullabies in any traditional sense -- delighted and surprised me.  And the musical arrangements from Robertson and Jackson, featuring guitar, piano, and a handful of other stringed instruments, are warm enough to snuggle in.  In short, this is the lullaby album I imprinted on and the one I still implicitly judge all other lullaby albums by today.

It's a Big World album cover

It's a Big World album cover

Renee and Jeremy: It's a Big World (2007) -- Finally, this album is the most modern-sounding lullaby album on this list, a combination of Jack Johnson and Elizabeth Mitchell with a series of (mostly) original lullabies.  I remember liking the album a lot, then hearing it on a really good pair of headphones while recording an NPR review of the album and being blown away by how spare and intimate the album sounded.  Since then, I've also become a much bigger fan of how Renee Stahl and Jeremy Toback meld their voices together.  Between the sound, their intertwined voices, and the whimsical cover art, this is the lullaby album most likely to be named "not your parents' lullaby album."

As with any of these "best" or "most essential" lists I'm creating, limiting your choices to these is a little foolish, but people also want them.  But if you're looking for a few more suggestions, here are some other categories of lullaby albums you may want to consider:

Artists I've Already Mentioned: Raffi (with his Quiet Time compilation), Laurie Berkner (with Laurie Berkner Lullabies), Caspar Babypants (with Night Night), and Elizabeth Mitchell (with significant chunks of most of her albums) would definitely have been under consideration for this list were it not for the fact that they already appeared on my best kids albums for infants and toddlers list.  Somehow it's not surprising that artists who record a lot for the youngest of listeners know their way around a lullaby.  As for Justin Roberts, his album Lullaby is excellent, but since he'll be appearing on a future list, I omitted him from consideration for this one.

Putumayo Kids: As I noted in the earlier "new parent" list, Just like its "parent," the themed albums of kids offshoot of the Putumayo label scours are a nice way to dip into the music of a non-American culture (though they offer some nice English-language compilations, too).  Their "Dreamland" albums feature lullabies from around the world -- the sounds can sometimes be unfamiliar to the older ears of the parents (and therefore less than fully relaxing), but that shouldn't be a problem for the kids.

The Secret Mountain: This Canadian label has had an excellent run of nearly 15 years of publishing books and accompanying albums (or is it the other way around)?  I've found their non-lullaby works to be pitched at a slightly older crowd (meaning, non-infant), but their lullaby albums, just like Putumayo's, span the globe in their coverage.  Now if would only start publishing picture or board books that were specifically targeted at kids who might be just year or two old, that would be an awesome combination.

The Kindie Rock Showdown: A Brief Recap

Kindie Rock Showdown logo

Kindie Rock Showdown logo

Well after nearly a full month of kids music video competition to the death... OK, there was no death or even injury whatsoever, the Kindie Rock Showdown over at batteryPOP has come to a conclusion.  When I last let you know what was going on, we were in the middle of Round 1, as Danny Weinkauf's "Ice Cream" knocked off Caspar Babypants' "The Stump Hotel" and Alphabet Rockers' "Dynamite" triumphed over The Bazillions' "No Homework" while we awaited the results of Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band's "Blue Bear" vs. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo's "Gotta Be You" and Josh and the Jamtones' "John Jacob" against The Not-Its' "Haircut."

Long story short, in the semi-finals the following week, Danny Weinkauf defeated Alphabet Rockers and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo beat The Not-Its, which set up an epic final between the bassist for They Might Be Giants and the hip-hop musician who knew a thing or two about winning a video showdown.  More than 10,000 votes were cast in the final round, and while it was close all week, with the lead changing hands several times, in the end Danny Weinkauf's video "Ice Cream" took home the prize.

As I noted in my last blog for the tournament, thanks to the artists for participating, batteryPOP for taking this idea and running with it, Laurie Berkner for doing a bunch of video intros, and everyone for watching and POPping their favorite videos.  Hopefully this isn't the last time!

Let's watch "Ice Cream" one last time to celebrate Weinkauf's victory.  I think I know how he might celebrate his victory...

Danny Weinkauf and the Red Pants Band - "Ice Cream" [YouTube]

Itty-Bitty Review: 10 - Funky Mama

10 album cover

10 album cover

Kansas City's Krista Tatschl Eyler -- AKA Funky Mama -- has been laying low in the kids' music world for a few years since the release of her previous album Sing! in 2010, but she's back in fine vocal form on her new album 10.

The album title is a recognition that 2015 marks the ten-year anniversary of the release of her first album in 2005.  But this is no retrospective of an album.  Instead, these ten tracks (appropriate, that) are celebratory.  It's nice to have her voice back in kids music -- Shawana Kemp of Shine and the Moonbeams is the only kids music artist who can belt out a song like Eyler can.  Eyler has a powerhouse voice and the best songs here take advantage of that.  "Action, Friends, Action!" is a horn-drenched movement song that demands movement from anyone within listening distance, while on "Safe Seat" is a blues-drenched song sung from the perspective of a student who just can't sit still (and might have gotten in trouble a few times at school for it).  She brings in some local guest artists to good effect -- Sugar Free Allstars' Chris Wiser funky organ on "Gonna Be Alright" and Rappin' Roy Scott's vocals on "Dance!" work particularly well.

The album and its kid-targeted subjects (e.g., dogs eating homework, the joys of eating corn, dancing) will be most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 8.  10 doesn't reinvent any kids music formulas, but one listen may remind that there's room for all sorts of kindie musicians, including those who know how to belt out a tune without fluttering off into American Idol silliness.  Recommended.

Note: I received a copy of the album for possible review.

Review: Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over - Hilary Grist

Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over cover

Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over cover

It didn't occur to me until I sat down to write this review, but the label that has released the biggest, most diverse set of original music for kids and families over the past several years is a book publisher: Montreal-based The Secret Mountain.  They've released 23 albums over the past decade and more -- some totally in French (as would befit a publisher based in Montreal), some in English, some in languages from around the world.  Their book/CD collections have featured lullabies, folk music from around the world, even a couple books from the longtime kids musicians Trout Fishing in America.  And while some of the albums are re-releases of albums, dressed up with the accompanying book, many (like the Trout Fishing) albums are entirely new.

The 23rd and latest album from The Secret Mountain is a book/CD titled Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over, a "Bedtime Story and Dream Songs" collection from Vancouver-based musician Hilary Grist.  In both its music and its accompanying pictures, it is to my mind the most modern- looking and sounding release from TSM.  Grist has four folk-alt-pop albums for adults under her belt, and this new album sees her turn her attention to that most unconditional of love songs, the lullaby.  The title track is one of the most gorgeous songs you'll hear all year, for kids or not.  Its message of dropping worries, that tomorrow is, well, a chance to start over, is reassuring for sleepyheads of all ages, and Grist's vocals are somehow soaring without being totally inappropriate for a sleepytime disk.

With the exception of "Cradle Song," a reworking of Brahms' Lullaby, which concludes the album, the rest of the songs are original lullabies.  Some of them like "Fall in My Loving Arms" and "I'll Be There sound as if they might have been originally written for an adult audience (though not inappropriately so), others ("Say Goodnight" and "City of Green and Blue") feel more kid-centered.  Of course, the beauty of many of the best contemporary lullaby albums lies in part in the ability of the singer to pull together different songs to weave an overall mood of unconditional love.   And songs like "Float Away," "Le Petit Oiseau," and "Still" help produce that mood.  The album starts out a little "loud" for a lullaby album, but by the end, it's all very

The book features an original story about brother and sister Ira and Isabelle, who find themselves struggling to fall asleep and so take a boat far away but instead of finding a Sendak-ian collection of wild things, are greeted by a robin who encourages them to drop their worries and fly.  (The theme leads well into the title track.)  The siblings' clay characters were created by Grist, and the photographs -- a first for a Secret Mountain book as opposed to illustrations -- a distinctive mixture of collage and tiny models by an artistic team led in part by Grist's husband Mike Southworth.  Babies won't appreciate the photographs, perhaps, but their parents certainly will.  You can also hear Grist read the story as the album's first track.

I think that most successful lullaby albums work for both the target age range of kids ages 0 through 5 as well as their parents, and by that measure Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over succeeds quite well -- it's a lovely collection of songs, with some memorable images to match.  Here's hoping The Secret Mountain continues to bring new artists like Grist into their fold in future years.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I received a copy of the book/CD set for possible review.

 

Video: "Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over" - Hilary Grist

Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over cover

Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over cover

This week sees the release of another dreamtime book/CD collection from Canadian publisher The Secret Mountain, but unlike their last release, the classical "hits" lullaby collection Sleep Softly, this new release is a collection of 21st century folk-pop.  It's called Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over, and features songs, a story, and clay characters created by Vancouver musician Hilary Grist.

I'll have a review of the album and book soon, but thought that this video was too lovely not to share first.  It's for the title track, a melody featuring Grist's clear voice, which hits gorgeous heights on the chorus.  The video features the brother-and-sister clay characters Grist created to illustrate the story.  Perhaps you'll see the robin whose voice I think Grist is inspired by in the chorus.

Hilary Grist - "Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over" [YouTube]