Category: Barry Louis Polisar

Covered in Kidfolk: Stocking Stuffers
(New tribute albums and compilations for cool moms and dads)

December 13th, 2009 — 12:05 pm

A three-fer feature today, folks: a great new Putumayo Kids holiday album for the whole family, a new take on classic popular and showtunes from a familiar and beloved kidfolk performer, and a wonderful family-friendly tribute album to a long-standing kidfolk icon. All make perfect gifts for the cool kids and kids-at-heart on your holiday gift-giving list. Enjoy!

Barry Louis Polisar – the guy who wrote and performed All I Want Is You, the cute, silly opening number for the movie Juno – is actually much weirder than you’d think, and much more famous, at least among a particular subsection of the cool parent set. Over 35 years on the road and in the studio, he has made a name for himself as an award-winning kids entertainer and a strong proponent of imagination and literacy; his songs have been featured on NPR, School Library Journal, Newsweek, and on endless rotation on my CD player, and their titles speak for themselves: current favorites in our house include My Brother Threw Up On My Stuffed Toy Bunny, I Wanna Be A Dog, and I Eat Kids.

Now, in recognition of his years of service to a rising generation of children, a host of international artists and family bands, many of who grew up listening to these hilariously warped kidsongs, have come together to pay tribute to Polisar and his surprisingly vast catalog. And just as I really recommend Barry’s endearing originals, I’m putting the two-CD tribute We’re Not Kidding at the top of my stocking stuffer list, and recommending you do, too.

It’s hard to describe the sprawling tribute that is We’re Not Kidding. Where Barry’s original works tend primarily towards the kind of cheerfully ragged acoustic rock that typifies some of my favorite kid’s albums, the sixty songs here run the full genre gamut – there’s grungy hard rock, twangy country, klezmer, ska, Zappaesque electrofolk, girl-group harmonies, the odd samba, and a healthy dollop of acoustic indiepunk and singer-songwriter anti-folk.

But despite the vast sound spectrum, a closer listen reveals several unifying elements here beyond Polisar’s direct, imaginative silliness. To wit: these songs are all short and weird, almost universally experimental and wobbly-voiced, highly gleeful, and – regardless of genre – predominantly steeped in a ragged, one-take sensibility. Put it all together, and it’s like a complete box set of fun off-genre bonus tracks from the entire SXSW cadre. Or like someone decided to put together a heroin-punk and mid-nineties New Zealand Underground compilation for kids, and every artist took a different approach to the problem, with some choosing to take up a more kid-friendly genre mantle, others stripping their sound down to the acoustic roots, and the rest figuring that hell, kids would like punk, too.

Either way, this is a fabulously fun album, and a fine showcase for the oddly endearing talents and songs of the long-standing children’s entertainer. My kids absolutely LOVE it, and so will the kids and parents on your holiday list. Check out some of the folkier tracks below, head over to Barry’s site to sample the whole damn thing, and then order We’re Not Kidding and a couple of CDs worth of Barry Louis Polisar originals today.

We’ve featured popular kids entertainer Dan Zanes and his Family Band here in our kidfolk posts before, but his new album 76 Trombones, a set of beloved songs from Broadway musicals, is worth the just-released celebration, as much for how well it continues to demonstrate his prowess as a kids entertainer and bandleader as for how effectively it makes well-chosen familiarities accessible to the kidset.

Not so much an ex-rocker as a kids’ coolness revivalist, a parent who turned to kids entertainment after a long career with popular 80s rootsrocker band the Del Fuegos, Zanes continues to prove that kids music need not be sappy or cheesy with his marvelously playful stage shows and albums, and this hefty new release is no exception. 76 Trombones features 17 songs transformed into rootsy party tunes, each one a gem sure to please both parents and kids, with the likes of Carol Channing and Matthew Broderick as guest vocalists; it’s on my Christmas wishlist, and I expect after hearing the samples below, it will be on yours, too.

Just as the Putumayo parent label has made a name for itself for its constantly growing collection of perfect thematic coffeehouse samplers from around the world, Putumayo Kids has become well-known among cool moms and dads for a series of well-collected compilations of family-friendly music, each with its own special regional or thematic focus. As such, unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of holiday cheer on A Family Christmas, the most recent of four holiday releases from Putumayo Kids.

But though we have come to expect great selection and great songs from Putumayo Kids, A Family Christmas is an especially potent mix of familiar carols and popular holiday fare, flowing seamlessly from roots to blues to folk to rockers with nary a dud or a skip-over.

As with most Putumayo samplers, the tunes included herein are relatively recent but not new releases – I’ve long treasured [and previously posted] Martin Sexton’s Holly Jolly Christmas, love Deanna Carter’s delicate fireside Winter Wonderland, and we featured Kate Rusby’s Christmas album, which includes the version of Here We Go A Wassailing found on A Family Christmas, in Tuesday’s feature on Rusby. But even if you’ve already got a few of these tunes, the particular success of the sequential arrangement of song here, and the universal comfort and joy of the songs and performances themselves, make this a perfect last-minute holiday gift for the kid or kid-at-heart in your life. Here’s a playful pair of tracks to get your whistle wet before purchase.

As a bonus, in addition to releasing Brave Combo’s polka version of Jolly Old Saint Nick as a website freebie, Putumayo makes a great Seasons Greetings ecard for the holidays, featuring playful graphics and Leon Redbone’s warm, acoustic swing version of Let It Snow. Send one to the kids you love now.

Looking for more kid-friendly Holiday Coverfolk? Chromewaves has note of a deliciously delicate and diverse Canadian compilation tribute to the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas; head over to download Jill Barber’s cover of The Christmas Song, and The Awkward Stage covering Christmas Time Is Here. Or try these archived features from last year:

Also, for those celebrating Chanukkah this year: Last year’s feature on Chanukkah Coverfolk is still live and relevant, as is this mini-feature containing two wonderful covers of Rock of Ages.

1,005 comments » | Barry Louis Polisar, Dan Zanes, Holiday Coverfolk, Kidfolk