Review: Newborn / Toddler - Sara Hickman

Newborn.jpgAustin-based artist Sara Hickman has been making albums for well over 15 years now. I can remember owning a cassette with her self-produced debut Equal Scary People (who knows where that tape resides now?)

Several years ago, Hickman decided to record a kids CD inspired -- of course -- by the birth of her kids. And so in 1999, Hickman released Newborn, a collection of songs for "parents who have trepidation about singing to their newborns." Half collection of lullabies, half something more uptempo, the 40-minute album generally succeeds, usually in more the uptempo parts. A simple swinging version of "A-Tisket A-Tasket" or a gentle reading of Cat Stevens' "Moonshadow" -- pleasant to listen to. And Hickman gives her own "A Slice of Heaven" a nifty a cappella treatment. Less successful are the lullabies. I'm a parent who has no trepidation about singing to my kids, and the lullabies here intimidate me, actually. "It's Alright" is a song Hickman created for her 4-month-old daughter, and while the lyrics are sweet and give great comfort, Hickman's strong voice is a bit overwhelming. Maybe I'm wrong here, but it doesn't sound at all like the way I would sing to a colicky baby -- it's that version that I want to hear. The lullabies are fine (I've heard much worse), but they don't always sound the way lullabies might actually be sung.

Toddler.jpgNow, if the first album occasionally suffers from a bit of preciousness, Hickman's 2001 follow-up Toddler suffers in no way whatsoever in that regard. In about 43 minutes, Hickman records 31 tracks of silly songs, playground rhymes, and a few stories that do a much better job of showing how simple it can be to just sing for your kids. In writing notes on the CD, I repeatedly used the word "fun" to describe the tracks. From the instant-classic playground chant "I Like My Boots" (co-written by Hickman and 8-year-old Kristen Nichols) to the zippy "Weenie Man" to the ear-wormy melody of Hebrew folk song "Hiney Rakevet," Hickman seems to be having a blast. It's multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and a blast of energy from start to end. Unlike Newborn, Hickman also uses a few more instruments (on both albums, the playing is great).

Sara's choice of album titles makes it remarkably easy for this reviewer to peg the age range, though I'd go a little on the older side, 0-4 for Newborn, and 1-6 for Toddler. You can hear samples and read lyrics for Newborn here and a few samples from Toddler here.

Sara Hickman has crafted a couple nice CDs here. With some sweet melodies, Newborn might make a nice gift for a parent-to-be and is recommended, if only because it's not totally lullaby-driven. But it's Toddler that's definitely recommended -- it's the stronger album and will get much more use owing to the fun evident on the disk.