Review Bundle: Stories In And With Songs

Once upon a time there lived a man with a kids' music website. The website was well-regarded, but even that had its downsides -- he received so many albums and artists worth discussing that to fully discuss them all would far exceed the time the man had available to him for his reviews.

One day his wife, a wise and gracious woman, suggested that he might combine fairly brief reviews of albums with some merit into a small grouping, or "bundle," thereby accomplishing his desire of writing about the albums without overly taxing his time.

And so the man was presented with three albums, all dealing with stories in and with songs.

TrulyHairyFairyTales.jpgThe first album, Truly Hairy Fairy Tales, from New York musician Doug Waterman, most closely resembled the music the man typically reviewed. With a voice reminiscent of Jim Gill and a folky style and humor much like Jamie Barnett, Waterman retells familiar fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk and the Ugly Duckling. Most of the retellings are conventional and not very hairy at all, though some, like the amusing "Snow White and the Seven Dorks," earn the moniker. Sometimes Waterman puts a full band together with usually appealing results (the leadoff track "Big Bad Wolf" is a lot of fun, especially with its brass touches). Most likely to appeal to kids ages 5 through 10, you can hear some clips from the 51-minute album here. It's a bit long for listening in one sitting, but taken in limited doses (especially in teaching situations), there are some good songs here.

MusicTales.jpgThe second album the man had was Music Tales, the debut CD from Florida-based Musicians Out of the Box. This CD generally combines familiar stories (Goldilocks, the Arabian Nights) with mostly-familiar classical music arranged for string quartet, which serve as musical counterpoint to the words. The musical selections are mostly appropriate ("Carmen" for "Ferdinand the Bull," "Scheherazade" for "The Arabian Nights") and are well-integrated with the expert story-telling. The world premiere of "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" based on a Chris Van Allsburg is pretty good, but I was lost without additional text (at least some pictures are provided in the liner notes. Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" isn't well-served by a selection from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, but the album closer, "Goodnight Moon," set to "Claire de Lune," is well-nigh perfect. The stories are appropriate for kids ages 3 through 9 (and stories for kids older than that. You can hear samples from the 66-minute album here. The album is an excellent mixture of classical music and storytelling.

TellMeAStory.jpgFinally, the most traditional story-telling album is Tell Me A Story, a collection of folk tales from around the world, collected by Amy Friedman with musical accompaniment written by Laura Hall. For the most part, the music on this 71-minute CD remains in the background, opening and closing pieces and typically serving as transitional interludes. It's good, but the focus is on the actors' voices who are performing the stories in monologue. Some stories contain a moral of sorts ("A Sense of Theft"), some are more silly ("Anansis and Turtle's Feast"), and some of a hint of sadness ("The Selkie Bride," which will be familiar to anyone who has seen John Sayles' classic movie The Secret of Roan Inish). The performances are compelling enough to have kept my daughter's attention. The stories are appropriate for kids ages 6 and up. You can hear samples here. The album will satisfy listeners looking for a high-quality storytelling experience.

And with that, dear readers, the man ended his review, satisfied that he had conveyed to you the key points of these three albums. If forced to choose between the three albums, he might have had a slight preference for the Music Tales CD, but that is a story for another time and another place.