It would be hard for me to review this album without establishing my affinities up front:
1. I Kickstarted this album.
2. Our son (AKA Little Boy Blue) was born in Asia (and adopted into our family as an infant).
3. Dan Zanes has provided a healthy part of our family soundtrack over the past 10+ years.
4. I love kimchi.
OK, now that we have that out of the way, is it any surprise that I am very charmed by Rabbit Days and Dumplings, the first album from Elena Moon Park? (No, it shouldn't be.) Park, the fiddler and instrumentalist from Dan Zanes' band, has taken music from her own Korean (by way of Tennessee) heritage, mixed it with other Asian family-friendly songs, and given the songs a Zanesian flair. The result is exactly what you'd expect -- songs from a very different culture made accessible to an English-speaking, Western audience and just as importantly, made fun as well.
There are lots of singalong chorsus on the album, starting with the album opener, "Sol Nal." Park doesn't attempt to provide lyrics for each song in her liner notes; rather, for many songs, she picks out a single phrase as the hook. So, for "Sol Nal," it's "Sol Nal / Sol Nal / Sol Nal Un Cho Ah Yo," which she translates as
"New Year / New Year / I like New Year's." Or, for the train-inspired bluegrass-y "Diu Diu Deng," singing along with "Diu! Diu!," the sound of raindrops is enough. Language is fluid in the songs, with Park and the other vocalists flowing in and out of the native tongue of each song and English.
Just as with the lyrics, where Park clearly tried to honor the original song and language but didn't feel like she had to sing every word in that original language, the arrangements have been blended into new, often Western forms. For example, for the Japanese fishing song "Soran Bushi," Park turns it into a rousing sea shanty, "envisioning groups of men on boats singing it," as she puts it in the liner notes. ("A Dokkoisho!," or "heave, ho!," could be your family's next motivating call.) The Chinese song "Diu Shou Juan" is performed in New Orleans brass band style. And as with every Dan Zanes album, Park has recruited a kajillion different musicians (the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man among them) to play along, often letting them take the lead.
With the (partial) language barrier, age is less of an issue with this album than others, but the subjects are often most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. As you would expect from the folks at Festival Five, the album packaging is first-rate, but regardless of whether you get the physical copy or order mp3s, you can also download full lyrics, translations, and chords at the album's Songs page. Listen to a sampler of songs here.
I'm clearly biased, but I think Rabbit Days and Dumplings is a great album. If you're put off by the description of it as folk and children's music from East Asia, I encourage you to give it a chance, as you'll discover a set of songs from that, in these renditions, are very accessible to Western ears, and even voices. Elena Moon Park have put together a remarkable album here, one that deserves a larger audience than it might otherwise be consigned to. Highly recommended.