I appreciate artists like Johnette Downing who have carved out careers making kids' music in genres other than the dominant rock and pop genres. Based in New Orleans, Downing understandably draws upon the rich musical gumbo of the region, using Cajun, Creole and Zydeco as her musical inspiration.
Released nationally this week, Downing's sixth kids album, Fins and Grins, is a fine example of Downing's musical approach. For subject matter, Downing looks to the sea, singing songs about penguins, stingrays, and (naturally) l'ecrevisse, more commonly known as the crawfish. Musically, the album is a great collection of melodies, supported by Downing's sweet voice and strong band. But the album has a strong interactive and educational component, and how you feel about the CD will depend in large part on how interactive and educational you like your CDs. Many preschoolers will like songs like the gently boogie-ing "Clamshell Clap," which encourages lots of clapping, natch, or the "Amazon ABC's," which lists Amazon animals well-known and not. If you're not looking for educational songs, you might appreciate the Zydeco of "L'ecrevisse" while not caring much for the lesson about the crawfish in the lyrics. Some songs do stand well on their own, the traditional folk song (with rewritten lyrics) "The Circle of Life" and the album closer (with a sweet fiddle accompaniment) "Turtles" being two prime examples.
I think kids ages 4 through 8 will most appreciate the lyrical content here (the musical content is definitely all-ages). You can hear samples at the album's CD Baby page or hear a couple tracks at Downing's music page.
In the end, despite the solid musical composition, the somewhat narrow lyrical focus and approach of Fins and Grins probably keeps it from being everyone's cup of tea. If, however, you are looking for a kid-friendly collection of New Orleans-flavored music or are a librarian or preschool/elementary school teacher looking for some aquatic-themed music as part of (or to lead) a lesson, then this album will make an excellent addition to your collection.