Children's Music That Doesn't Suck
Since I last wrote about music a few weeks ago, Juliette and I have been exploring the world of children's music and what we've found--or, at least, what I've found--is that there is a whole lot of really bad kid's music out there. For example, about three-quarters of what Time Warner plays on their kid's music cable channel is awful. I feel like there is this horde of would-be musicians out there who couldn't hack it with adult audiences and figured that kids can't tell the difference between good music and half-assed music. Like some guy is out there thinking, "Well, I'm not a very good singer and I can't play any instruments and I don't really know how to write a song, but if I just throw together some dumb lyrics and put some synthesized harp and bells behind it, kids should like that, right?"
As is probably unsurprising, I have, at times, become somewhat enraged by this sort of sloppiness.
Really, I don't know what people are thinking when they make crappy music, and maybe it's overly cynical for me to be seeing dollar signs in their eyes. Maybe they really are producing this stuff out of a genuine love of music and children. It's still not something I want to listen to, though.
But! I am delighted to report that the genre of children's music is not a wasteland. There is actually a fair amount that's tolerable, and here and there you will find some real gems. Music that's obviously been made with love and passion, by people who understand that "simple" is not the same as "stupid." Here are a few that we've come to know.
First off, I should probably eat a little bit of crow regarding Raffi. I'm not really sure what informed my previous opinion, but Juliette's purchase of two of his albums has led me to discover that there's more to his music than just silliness. Songs like "Like Me and You" have a nice message of tolerance, and I love the imagery in "Morningtown Ride." Of course, that one is a cover, but the simplicity of his arrangement and vocal style complements the lyrics really well. He even managed to make me smile at a pun--no mean feat--in "Joshua Giraffe."
Another singer I've come to really enjoy is Elizabeth Mitchell. (Same name as the actress on Lost, but not the same person.) One of Juliette's cousins sent us her album You Are My Little Bird when Jason was born, which for some reason I didn't really listen to at the time. But Juliette and I turned out to like it so much that we went out and got another of her albums, You Are My Sunshine. Mitchell tends to favor simple, sparse arrangements with one or two singers and a single guitar, which works great with the purity of her voice. Her music is very folk-influenced and a number of the songs on both albums are traditional, but she has a very distinctive style that makes the music very much her own.
Finally, there's Dan Zanes and Friends, whose album Catch That Train has been in high rotation for us in the past few weeks.. I think that this album may have come to us from the same cousin that sent us the Elizabeth Mitchell album, in which case I have to compliment her taste. I remember the first time we put the CD in Juliette's car stereo, I turned to her in the middle of the title track and said, "You know, I would listen to this song for myself. This is a good song." If I hadn't already known that it was a children's album, I very well might not have been able to tell, and I love that. It's music for children rather than children's music--real, organic music that hasn't had the soul squeezed out of it by making it too squeaky clean. Zanes, like a lot of children's singers, leans strongly toward folk, but he also brings roots rock and blues into the mix, and even a little reggae here and there.
So that's where we are with kid's music right now. If you happen to have any recommendations, feel free to let me know. In the mean time, I'll keep digging for those hidden gems.