Can there ever be too much music for children?
Well, it really depends on the context of the question. Are there any ill effects of exposing our kids to too many live concerts, or too vast a varied and eclectic musical CD collection, or too much singing and family music making? Of course not! But can there be so much music available out there for parents that it can be overwhelming? I definitely think so!
Though I feel the percentage of outstanding recordings is shrinking, the sheer number of new releases every month almost guarantees there will be CDs that are noteworthy enough to bring to your attention. And that is the goal of this column, isn’t it? We want to save you time and energy and make it easier for you to find the best of the best in children’s music.
If you are a regular reader of this column, you have heard me say over and over again that the children’s music industry is literally saturated with product. And each one is hoping to capture your attention. Some succeed simply because the CD is just another piece of merchandise in a long list of products being mass marketed. Many fail because they do not have the promotional budget to compete. Sometimes that is too bad because some of the best music for children comes from independent artists who are passionate about creating meaningful music for kids. Most times though, they barely can scrape the money together to produce the recording and fail to adequately fund the necessary promotion.
This summer was a bumper crop for children’s music. But it is simply impossible for me to (1) listen to all the CDs that are sent to me, and (2) write a review about all the music that I think is deserving of recognition. So this month’s column will spotlight two CDs that deserve your attention.
DOS NINOS, by Sugar Free Allstars, Wiser Music, $12.97, www.sugarfreeallstars.com; ages 3-9.
I am always attracted to projects that throw any kind of "that’s the way children’s music should be" notion out the window. Such is the case with this Hammond B-3 organ and drum duo.
Here’s how their press release explains it, "Imagine that Deep Purple and Sly and the Family Stone had a love child that grew up in New Orleans listening to Ray Charles, Black Sabbath and Booker T. That love child would be the Sugar Free Allstars."
So suffice it to say that this music is funky, groove-driven and fun. But what is most important is that they have a great knack for writing in a style that is straightforward and to the point. "He’s Okay (the spider song)" tells the tale of a spider that has taken up residence in the bathroom shower. Some people say that he should smash him, but the boy has grown fond of his little friend and hopes he stays. The story stays simple and honest without getting preachy—something I appreciate.
I LIKE BEING ME, by Lanny Sherwin, Sandman Records, $12.98, www.sandmanrecords.net; ages 4-9.
Lanny Sherwin’s experience as a father is evident in these wonderfully child-centered songs. He is a keen observer of childhood experiences as well as a fine songwriter. What emerges here are well crafted songs expertly produced that have the ability to keep the kids engaged with songs parents will want their children to hear. For example, "That’s What You Do" does an outstanding job of reminding children of the importance of persistence.
Another favorite of mine is "A Cappella, Part 2." On his last CD Sherwin introduced "A Cappella," a perfect song to teach the musical concept of a cappella (singing without instrumental accompaniment). Part 2 takes off from the original and features some great vocalizing—including a little bit of Jimi Hendrix’s "Purple Haze" thrown in to support his point.
Sherwin’s sensitivity comes through as he recognizes in "I Need To Be Alone" that kids need their alone time, if just to get a little peace and quiet in order to sort things out.
This is Sherwin’s fourth family music CD, so be sure to stop by his Web site and listen to his other award-winning music.
Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, recording artist and producer. His Web site, BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children’s music. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.