Review Two-Fer: Putumayo's Instrumental Dreamland / Brazilian Playground

Instrumental Dreamland album coverYear in, year out, the Putumayo Kids offshoot of the main Putumayo label consistently releases a handful of well-curated albums of music from around the world and closer to home (if home happens to be North America).

From a reviewer's perspective, they almost do this too well -- if the quality varied more, it would be easier for us to note the outstanding ones, and ignore the misfires.  As it stands, they're inevitably all good, but it's hard for one to stand out and demand special attention.

I was reminded of this as I listened to the two most recent releases from the label.  There is nothing bad with Instrumental Dreamland, the latest in Putumayo Kids' "Dreamland" series.  You could give it to a parent at their wits' end in trying to comfort a wailing infant, and they would probably be grateful.  It's soothing, devoid of over-emoting vocalists, and peaceful -- a solid album of lullabies.  It is also somewhat superfluous amidst the sea of other lullabye albums available.  Because almost every song features a guitar (or at least some other guitar-like plucked instrument), there's a sameness to the songs that is frankly unusual for a Putumayo disk, which generally features more instrumental and stylistic diversity, even in its Dreamland series.  I even felt it was too Western-ized -- do we really need yet another cover of "What a Wonderful World?"  Kids of all ages (and their parents) will appreciate Instrumental Dreamland either at night or anytime a half-hour of quiet time is needed, but there's far less "need" for this album than most of Putumayo's disks.

Brazilian Playground album coverBrazilian Playground, on the other hand, is closer to a "typical" Putumayo Kids disk (if such a thing can be said to exist).  It features eleven songs from the Brazil's large and diverse musical heritage.  The album opener, "Alo... Alo," deftly mixes the traditional sound of the bossa nova with electronic beats, while the follow-up, Gui Tavares' "Pancada" has a mellow pop sound.  And Chico Cesar's "Mama Africa" sounds like it draws as much from reggae as anything from Brazil.  (My favorite track: Adriana Macel's bright, sun-dappled "Samba Dos Animais")

This is not an entirely new disk -- Putumayo released this originally in 2007.  For this re-release, Putumayo cut 5 tracks, added 3 new ones (Cesar's track, a jazzy "O Rio Tem Cachoiera" and a slow track at the end called "Anhanga), and re-ordered and remastered the rest. The three tracks are fine, but owners of the 2007 disk shouldn't feel the need to upgrade.  Kids ages 3 through 7 will be the ones most likely to dance along and enjoy Putumayo's typically solid work on the liner notes.  Brazilian Playground is Putumayo doing well at what it does well -- bringing a mostly unfamiliar sound to English-speaking America and presenting it in a sparkling light.  Recommended.