In one sense, I place albums of nursery rhymes in approximately the same category as entire albums of Beatles covers -- pretty much unnecessary. The Fab Four's originals are so iconic (and often perfect) that redoing them seems pointless unless the artist is doing something entirely novel with the songs. A single Beatles song mixed among originals or covers of other artists? Sure. But an entire album? Even if it's really good, they're more likely to send the families to dig out what Beatles music they have.
With nursery rhymes and classic kids' songs, I have the same basic issue, but with a different spin. With albums covering classic songs like "London Bridge," "The Wheels on the Bus," and "Row Row Row Your Boat," and so on, artists have two possible approaches: 1) simple renditions that put the melody and lyrics up front, and 2) entire reworkings of the songs whose elaborate arrangements, rather than the song itself, become the point ("Pop Goes The Weasel"... gone metal!).
The latter approach isn't without merit -- such arrangements can sometimes help listeners of all ages hear an overly familiar song with new ears, or introduce those listeners to a genre they might not typically spin. As you might expect, the former approach -- simple songs done (relatively) simply -- is my preferred approach, but the problem here is that, well, exactly how many such albums does a family need?
Besides the fact that the only member of our family in single-digits age-wise is our youngest Boston Terrier, we are also card-carrying members of Team Wiggleworms and Team Raffi. Songs for Wiggleworms and Singable Songs for the Very Young (and their immediate successors) met our need for collections of nursery rhymes and familiar kids' songs a decade ago and, well, there's no need for anything new. That's overstating things maybe a bit, but not a lot. Songs for Wiggleworms features dozens of classic songs, usually with nothing more than a guitar for accompaniment. Singable Songs for the Very Young is more expansive -- some original songs amidst the classics, with more elaborate arrangements -- but at its heart, it's still an album of classic kids' songs.
So from one perspective -- my own family's, reviewer's hat aside -- the latest releases from Laurie Berkner and Lisa Loeb, are utterly unnecessary. We have the unadorned collection of songs, we have the slightly adorned collection of songs, and we've been listening to them for so long that they feel like much-loved stuffed animals. Why anyone would throw those stuffed animals away for lovely new stuffed animals is beyond me.
But there are lots of families who haven't yet found that stuffed animal, and perhaps some of those families will find in Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids' Songs and Loeb's Nursery Rhyme Parade a stuffed animal that they can rely on.
Because make no mistake, these types of albums should be in the collection of every family with a preschooler in the house. These are the foundational songs of childhood, with melodies (and often lyrics) that have lasted for literally centuries. These are the songs that parents and caregivers should be singing to (and hopefully with) the young ones in their midst, and good collections of classic songs help families do that, by reminding the adults of songs (both lyrics and melodies) and offering the kids repetition to solidify their knowledge of the song.
Of the two albums Berkner's is more reminiscent of Raffi's fuller arrangements and approaches. Her band appears on many tracks, and she shares vocals with a number of musicians. Sometimes she sings a cappella, and some tracks end up on the other end of the production spectrum ("Shoo-Fly" features strings), but all the arrangements put the song first. And Berkner still has one of the best female voices in kindie.
On her album, Loeb goes the more minimalist Wiggleworms route. More a cappella, and when she is accompanied, it's usually just with a simple guitar. If the listener wants the song, just the song with as little embroidery as possible, then Nursery Rhyme Parade is the album more likely to meet that listener's expectations. To be clear, Loeb has a fine voice herself, and it's produced well, but it's hard to envision a much simpler album.
The albums are different enough -- beyond the arrangements, surprisingly enough there are a number of songs that are featured on only one album or the other -- that you could conceivably get both. But assuming you only want one, there are other differences that might influence your choice. For example, Berkner's album is actually a 57-track collection that stretches to 2 hours and 9 minutes in length. About half of those are remastered previously-released tracks (including 6 Berkner songs included as "bonus" tracks), but even then you'd get 27 new songs. Loeb's collection zips by, 37 tracks in 31 minutes, and, perhaps more importantly, it's featured on Amazon Prime Music, which means that you're not going to be able to hear it on streaming services like Rhapsody and Spotify (both of which are streaming Berkner's new disk). It's part of what appears to be a new effort by Amazon to target family audiences, and while you can buy Loeb's album from Amazon, either in mp3 or physical format, I think much of the audience will be Amazon Prime customers streaming it. (There are very few albums of classic kids' songs in the Amazon Prime collection that won't induce parental frustration -- Loeb's is one of the few that passes muster.)
So, do you need these albums? If you're a Laurie Berkner fan or a Lisa Loeb fan and you have kids still in preschool, then I think their albums will be an excellent fit for your family, even if maybe you already have a preschool song collection. If you have preschoolers, but don't have a preschool song collection, then both these albums are worth exploring. There are other albums that serve the same audience, but the arguments I might make for favoring one over another would be mostly my own particular biases. You don't need these albums at all, but you do need albums like these -- perhaps even these albums -- very much so. With those caveats, these are both definitely recommended.
Note: I received copies of both albums for possible review.