Review Two-Fer: Charlie Hope / Laura Doherty

LetsGoPlay.jpgLaurie Berkner is without a doubt the brightest female star in kids music (and quite possibly the biggest star, period), so I've been surprised that there haven't been more artists who've attempted to follow in her footsteps. There are obviously lots of successful female artists, for the most part, however, artists like Elizabeth Mitchell, Frances England, Molly Ledford, and Ashley Albert have taken different paths than Berkner's taken, that of melding bright pop takes on traditonal kids' music with catchy new melodies.

But if your family enjoys Berkner and would like to know if there's more where that came from, the answer is, yes, indeed, as Charlie Hope and Laura Doherty are two of the best artists making music for the preschoolers in your life.

Songs, Stories and Friends: Let's Go Play!, Hope's third album for families, mixes traditional tunes ("Wheels on the Bus," "Ants Go Marching," "Robin in the Rain") with some of the shiniest pop tunes you'll hear this year. "Best Friends" and "One That I Love" are sparkly and joyful, with Hope's bright, clear voice carrying the tune. Caspar Babypants repays the favor of Hope dueting on his recent album by helping out with "Alouette," while Hope's mom tells the story of "The Bear Family." Perhaps the best track might be the kicky "What I Like To Do," which uses kids' voices to great effect as individual kids sing about what they like to do, punctuated at the end with Hope singing "What I like to do / is sing songs for kids."

There's little to dislike about the album, though it sounds to me like Hope's voice gets auto-tuned a bit, not like Cher in "Believe," but just slightly more than I like to hear (and Hope probably needs). Aside from that personal bugaboo, I like the album a lot. It's 45 minutes long, targeted at kids ages 2 through 5.

ShiningLikeAStar.jpgOn her second album Shining Like a Star, Laura Doherty plumbs a slightly less traditional, slightly less pop-py line than Hope, with such as with the wurlitzer-like keyboard on "Rocket Ship," the country/western-dusted "Quiet as a Mouse," or the circus organ on "Ferris Wheel." Like Hope, Doherty's blessed with a clear voice that elevates the material -- her samba take on the Joe Raposo classic "Sing" is excellent.

Targeted at kids ages 2 through 6, the songs on 33-minute album are very preschool-subject-focused ("Hula Hoop" is about, you guessed it, hula hooping), which may eventually limit the number of times you can handle hearing Shining Like a Star with your kids, but it'll take you longer than with most albums to reach that point. That even happens with Laurie Berkner albums eventually.

Even though they remind me (in a good way) somewhat of Laurie Berkner, Charlie Hope and Laura Doherty are charting their own course in the kids music world. Even if they never reach the heights of popular success Berkner has, on their latest albums, both artists show off their talents in a way suggesting they, too, may be around for years to come. Recommended.