Review: Catch the Moon - Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell

An increasingly popular approach to recording kids' CDs is packaging the CD with a book. In some cases, like Philadelphia Chickens and Rhinoceros Tap from Sandra Boynton or Bed, Bed, Bed by They Might Be Giants, the hardcover book is pretty big, and doesn't necessarily lend itself to play with a preschooler. But the ubiquitous "board book" format is beginning to become popular with recording artists. Now, the first question with any of these book/CD combos is… "Where in the world do you file these things?" With the oversized hardcovers, it seems they get exiled to places far from the stereo or car CD player and just don't get much airplay. The board book versions (this CD, the Dan Zanes CDs) solve that problem by having books that are barely larger than the CD itself. Of course, filing them with the rest of the CDs means that they rarely get read. Oh, the waste! Maybe I'm just too hard to please. Well, not really. And this CD does have an advantage in that it is quite pleasing. Mitchell is known, of course, for her 2 children's CDs, You Are My Flower and You Are My Sunshine. Loeb is new to the children's music game, known best for, well, winsome pop. Together, they've made an album that isn't much different from Mitchell's two solo CDs, except that maybe it's a little more polished (but still somewhat winsome). It's also a little more international, as the album includes renditions of traditional Spanish, Japanese, and French songs. (They're pleasant enough, but don't have huge appeal to me.) That seems to be the Loeb influence; fans of Mitchell's out-of-left-field (though usually excellent) cover song selections for her kids' CDs will be pleased by the inclusion of Dylan's "New Morning." The best track on the album by far is the title track, an original by Mitchell, Loeb, and Mitchell's writing partners. "Catch the Moon" isn't just a great kids' song, it's a great song, period. It's a gentle pop song that would be a minor Billboard hit in a more eclectic radio world. The album is probably best for kids aged 2 years (or even younger) through maybe 5 years. The accompanying book is a nice addition. I would recommend the album to fans of Mitchell's other work, as well as to parents looking for a mellow, poppy, multi-cultural kids' CD.

Review: You Are My Flower - Elizabeth Mitchell

Elizabeth Mitchell helped found the rock band Ida with her husband Daniel Littleton. Unlike children's artists who have given up their "adult" careers or artists like They Might Be Giants, who are now doing both under the same name, Mitchell has kept her "adult" and "children's" careers separate. I have never heard Ida, so I have absolutely no idea what they're like, but You Are My Flower, the children's CD the two of them recorded together, is wonderful. If you like simple folk tunes polished up just a bit to take the roughest of edges off, you probably will enjoy this CD, which includes renditions of a couple Woody Guthrie children's songs. They also cover a song by the blues artist Leadbelly and two by the Carter Family, so you know it¹s not a typical kid's CD. (In fact, this was one of the first children's music CDs I would play even if there were no kids around. The entire album is pretty mellow, but lots of fun (my favorite songs are "This Little Light of Mine" and "Freight Train"). The CD is appropriate for kids from birth to 5 or so. My only complaint is that the CD is only about 25 minutes long (but, hey, it makes up for the kids' CDs that are way too long). You can find more information on Mitchell, this CD, and their follow-up at http://www.youaremyflower.org.

Review: No! - They Might Be Giants

The band They Might Be Giants are elder statesmen of what has sometimes been called "geek rock." The band has been recording albums for close to 20 years, and for most of that time they aimed their records right at your typical rock-listening audience of high schoolers and those with high school in their rear view mirror. But if you see them live, you'll find something unusual for rock concerts -- little kids on their parents' shoulders. In 2002 the band released No!, their first album specifically for kids. Some of the songs could just as easily have been released on an album for adults (indeed, some have been concert staples of theirs for years). Some of the songs are very simple, if somewhat skewed. "I Am Not Your Broom" and "I Am a Grocery Bag" are about, well, what their titles say. Other songs, however, are significantly more complex, both in instrumentation (full band!) as well as song structure. "The House At the Top of the Tree" has a Memento-like storytelling structure. (Oddly enough, that song is one of my 3-year-old daughter's favorites, and thanks to constant repetition, she's probably better at the lyrical intricacies than I am.) "Bed Bed Bed" is a 6-year-old's version of the Beatles' "Day in the Life" off of Sgt. Pepper's, complete with the sound of a placid ping pong game buried deep in the mix at the end. I would recommend TMBG CDs to kids of all ages (they're the one rock band I don't have any problem playing for our daughter), but this CD is probably best for kids age 3 - 8. There are a number of wonderful songs on the CD -- the first three ("Fibber Island," "Four of Two," "Robot Parade") are particularly strong. The CD is interactive, with lots of games (sort of) you can play while listening to the songs. You can also go to http://www.giantkid.net for more TMBG kiddie-related goodness.