Review: Alphabet Parade / Rainbow Lemonade - Melanie Dill

Sometimes you hear about older CDs, and you think, "Huh. That sounds kinda cool, but, you know, there's so much good stuff coming out now that I'll just have to let it slide."

That was me with Alphabet Parade and Rainbow Lemonade, from Kansas-based Melanie Dill. The CDs sounded interesting, but swamped as I was (and am) with newer music, I never got around to getting copies. Until recently, when I happened to receive a set.

So my task here, then, is try to convince you to not make the same mistake I did.

AlphabetParade.jpgMelanie Dill released her first record, Alphabet Parade in 1998. As you might expect from the title, there are a number of alphabet-related songs on the CD, most notably the parade itself, which over three tracks introduces all 26 letters and gives them each a little bit of character. (My favorite is "Big P, little p, rapping down the street / Going puh-puh-puh-p-p-puh-puh to everyone he meets," in a rapped style, of course.) But the alphabet thing isn't overdone, and there are lots of other topics of interest to preschoolers, such as discovery ("Look out the Window"), money (a barbershopped "Pennies, Nickles, Dimes and Quarters"), and colors ("Unripe Tomato"). The songs are a combination of traditional melodies and original songs.

Musically, most of the tracks are done in a simple folk style, though there are enough variations to keep things interesting, such as "Emily's Song," which deserves to be heard on your child's favorite merry-go-round. There are also a number of spoken-word tracks with musical accompaniment. Dill has an appealing, clear voice, but plenty of others share the vocal and instrumental duties (29 others, by my count, including Randy Kaplan). The kids' voices here (including that of Dill's daughter, Siel) are integral to the music. They're smartly incorporated into the music and sound like real kids who've had just a little bit of vocal training, enough to make the vocals pleasant but by no means too much to become grating. Let's put it this way, if you don't like the way the kids' voices sound here, you will never like kids' voices on record.

RainbowLemonade.jpgFlash-forward to 2002, when Dill releases Rainbow Lemonade, a worthy follow-up to Parade. The basic approach is the same as before, but the musical palette is broader. 60 musicians (many of whom, judging by last name, are related to Dill) plus an entire kindergarten class show up here with Dill, and the result is a fun blending of musical genres, from the hoppy and folky original "Baiba's Bungalow" to "Left and Right," which sounds like it was pulled straight out of a 1950s educational movie. "The Skeeter Song" is a bluesy number, while "Seaside" and "I-L-O-V-E-Y-O-U" have gentle beach melodies.

Sometimes the genres are mixed in the same song -- "After the Rain," interrupts a slow, lush song about the end of a rainstorm with a punky interlude about mud. The kids' voices return, as do the spoken-word pieces. One of my favorites of these is "Explore," which underscores the kids' talk about exploration with a jazzy musical number.

Given the topics here, these CDs will be of most interest to kids ages 2 through 6. You can hear some of the tracks from the nearly-identical-in-length-36-minute albums at Dill's website.

These CDs are nothing less than Sesame Street episodes from back in their free-form days before everything got all scheduled on that show. They hop genres and subjects seemingly at a whim, but their overall structure and execution is very well thought-out. I like both of them equally, and would be hard-pressed to recommend one over the other. If you have young kids in your household, I think they (and you) would really like these CDs. Definitely recommended.