With spring finally sprung, a new crop of children's music recordings is in full bloom. Here's a look at some of the best of the bunch.
Versatile composer/songwriter Peter Himmelman (My Best Friend Is a Salamander) returns with My Fabulous Plum (CD $18, Frinny Records, P.O. Box 852, 1223 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, Calif. 90403), his second knockout recording for kids. Pop/rock beats and rhythms dominate this feel-good outing that features inventive songs about funny fantastic fare—a flying plum, sugar highs of "A World Where You Only Eat Candy," an active invertebrate in "Sherm the Worm," an octopus with a velvety bass voice in "Cindy and the Octopus" and the silly spoken-word piece "A Short Discussion with My Attorney." Witty audio touches (a recording that sounds like an airline pilot addressing the cabin) will keep grown-ups grinning; the whole family will be bopping along to repeated spins in the CD player.
In its continuing mission to bring the best of world music to a young audience, Putumayo Kids serves up the terrific compilation, African Playground (CD, $15.98, www.putumayokids.com), spotlighting such talents as Angelique Kidjo, Dr. Victor and Them Mushrooms, from a range of African countries. Sunny sounds prevail, making this a toe-tapping as well as culturally rich listening experience. Informative liner notes include facts and stories about the various countries and songs (including languages).
Children's book fans may initially be attracted by the snazzy CD-sleeve art by illustrator Laura Cornell, and then they'll fall for the music on Bad Mood Mom (CD $16.98, Good Mood Records, www.badmoodmom.com). Composer/musician Jamie Broza has a top-drawer pedigree (creating music for TV, film and the stage) and has enlisted a line-up of talented instrumentalists to join him on these well-crafted original tunes. Electric guitar reverberates on several rocking numbers like "I'm Six," and rhythmic piano keeps the beat on "Are We There Yet?", a track that features pleasant harmonies and some entertaining, quick-paced verbal banter. All along the way, kids contribute background vocals that make Broza singing sound all the more playful.
Beatles aficionados and those new to the Fab Four may find some common ground on All Together Now (CD $13.98, cassette $8.98, Music for Little People, 800-346-4445), a collection of 13 Beatles songs featuring new pop arrangements and vocals by a group of teen and preteen singers. This anthology, a sequel to MFLP's All You Need Is Love, highlights "Help!," "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Ticket to Ride," among others.
Rachel Sumner strikes up the band on Join the Parade (CD $14.98, cassette $9.98, Rachel's Records, dist. A Gentle Wind, 888-386-7664) her latest round-up of snappy, fun-to-sing songs. Her confident, smooth voice is the perfect invitation for listeners who will likely be eager to try their voices on "Gootcha Gotcha Giggles," "Funky the Skunky" and "Let's Get Quackin'." Throughout, Sumner breezily moves from one musical style to another, including calypso, jazz and bluegrass. Trombone, tuba cello and violin help give this solid production a rich, accomplished sound. Sumner's storytelling talents are also on display in fables "The Contest" and "Chester Helps Molly Mole" as well as in "Three Ways," a brief, hilarious list of instructions for dealing with the sticky nature of peanut butter.
The smooth folk stylings of Sarah Pirtle shine on Heart of the World (CD $14.95, cassette $9.95, A Gentle Wind, 888-386-7664). Fiddle, mandolin, banjo and dobro sound right at home alongside dreamy original lyrics about the harmony of the natural world. Songs like "Whale Watch," "Jump Again Salmon" and "The Recycle Hokey Pokey" clearly express Pirtle's passionate feelings about conservation and ecology with nary a hint of didacticism.
A refreshingly stripped-down acoustic sound and enthusiastic guitar strumming distinguish Zero Is My Name (CD $13, Joel Caithamer, 3659 Coral Gables, Cincinnati, Ohio 45248), the debut of energetic performer Joel Caithamer. Zippy numbers "Popsicle," "Wet Dog" and "Never Pet a Skunk" are among the kid-friendly tracks here.