Laurie Berkner might just be the biggest superstar in kids' music. Plenty of artists can claim the hipster cred, a number of artists (or at least characters) certainly have the merchandising going on, but Berkner's the closest thing to a superstar (who's a real person) the genre has.
Which explains why I still feel the need to review a CD of hers that is, oh, 9 years old at this point. Victor Vito, Berkner's third album, was released in 1999, just about the time that the genre really started to come back. For some reason, it never became a staple in our household the way her first two CDs did, and I as I complete my Laurie Berkner review work here (for the time being), I went back to see if I could figure out why.
It's certainly not because there aren't good songs here. The title track is a stone-cold, know-it-from-the-first-spin classic. An earwormy tune, silly (but understandable) rhymes, it's one of those songs that you could retire happy knowing you just wrote that one song. But it's joined by a number of other great originals -- the simply lullaby "Moon Moon Moon," the stomp-encouraging "Boots," the quietly hysterical "The Goldfish," with its classic line, "Wait a minute, we're FISH!" Berkner also focuses somewhat on kids' feelings, as on "The Story of My Feelings" (natch) and "I'm Not Perfect." It's not easy to write songs like that which take a necessarily direct approach for preschoolers and have it not sound incredibly dull to adults, but Berkner succeeds. And Berkner's renditions of traditional songs such as "Froggie Went A-Courtin'" and "Zodiac" -- where the fat man is not from Calgary as Raffi suggested long ago, but from Tennessee -- show off her fine voice and simple but organic musical arrangements. (This may be the album that most closely shows off her debt to Raffi's path -- she is indeed a worthy successor to his mantle.)
If there's a downside to the album, is that it's too long. The album is exactly 60 minutes long, and it seems about twice as long as it needs to be. There are two pretty good 30-minute CDs (or one incredible one and one decent one) to be found here, but at an hour, there just aren't quite enough great songs or musical variety to sustain interest over the entire time. I also don't think it's quite as goofy as her first two CDs, which was one thing I always appreciated about them, but that's probably a personal taste thing.
As with Berkner's other albums, this one is targeted at kids ages 2 through 6. Samples of the tracks are all over the web. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of families have made Victor Vito a common part of their family's musical rotation. And while our family might not be among those, I'd be a fool not to recognize how many excellent songs can be found here. Definitely recommended.