There is no question that Raffi is kids music royalty, one of the first names lots of people probably think of when they hear the phrase "kids music."
But he's also been comparatively quiet in the past decade, at least in the kids music world, since the release of 2002's Let's Play. Not quiet in the broader world, mind you -- he's the founder of the Centre for Child Honouring, and a prolific Twitterer -- but there's a whole decade's worth of preschoolers whose exposure to Raffi's lovely voice has been limited to older songs, starting with one of the foundational albums of kids music, 1976's Singable Songs for the Very Young.
So it was with some surprise that the world received news that the Canadian artist was going to release an album of brand-new recordings in 2014. Sure enough, this summer he released Love Bug, and in many cases, it's like he never left. Why now? Raffi says he "make[s] music when I feel a new stirring," and in this case it was feeling like he wanted to record music celebrating the natural and "real world." (Although an active Twitter user, Raffi uses a fair number of those tweets to suggest that kids should have far less of an online/electronic presence.)
There are parts of Love Bug that are absolutely among Raffi's best work (which, for the record, I find to be his first 3 albums, which have been played literally hundreds of times in our household). The title song, with some kids singing along in parts? Classic. Same goes for "Doggone Woods," which features the man who's sold millions of albums giving his best "woof!" (There's something to be said for the idea that the reason Raffi has sold millions of albums is precisely because his empathy and understanding of kids allows him to bark on record.) Songs like "Free To Play" and "In the Real World" teach lessons obliquely about, well, playing and exploring the real world (as opposed to online). And as someone who's half-Canadian, I was glad to hear Raffi re-purpose Woody Guthrie's classic "This Land Is Your Land" for Canadian geography.
There are some songs that may frustrate some listeners -- "Mama Loves It" is more explicitly lesson-teaching, and the look I got from my wife after we listened to "Seeing the Heart" on a car ride spoke very clearly that she never wanted to hear Raffi sing about the "mother and son connection" ever again. Ours is a Raffi household, and so I can accept the track "Wind Chimes," which is, simply, 1 minute and 22 seconds of wind chimes. Others may not want to travel that path.
Technically, there are no great shifts compared to Raffi's past work. The arrangements are gentle, non-obtrusive -- mostly piano and guitar-folk with mellow percussion that features Raffi's voice, as pristine as ever. It doesn't sound like a kindie pop-rock record, and for that, we can be thankful. The 43-minute album is probably best for kids 3 through 7 (and "Belugagrads," as Raffi has nicknamed his now-adult fans from his past, of all ages.)
I will say that I wanted to like this album even more than I did -- I wanted it to be every bit as perfect as I think Singable Songs is. Other listeners may in fact think it is. But it is good, very good, and every family who's had a place in their heart for Raffi in their lives will find lots of music here worth space in that heart as well. Definitely recommended.
Note: I was provided a copy of this album for possible review.