Category: Kidfolk

A Very Kidfolk Christmas CONTEST:
Win Renee & Jeremy’s new holiday EP and covers album!

November 25th, 2012 — 06:50 pm

For the childless outsider, the distinction we make between family-friendly kidfolk and music-for-kids may seem a false dichotomy. And, to be fair, comparison of one to the other is tricky – while children’s music is arguably a stylistic subgenre or genre set unto itself, the kindie label is applied across many genre categories to describe a family-oriented sense and sensibility, one framed by both a particular intersection of topical content-appropriateness and a particularly multi-layered approach to performance and arrangement.

But just as the difference between Barney and old Sesame Street episodes is self-evident to those who know what to look for, putting selections from each side of the kid/family playlist against each other exposes the distinction between them. Today, a comparison of brand new holiday collections from well-known kid performer Laurie Berkner and kindie favorites Renee & Jeremy makes for a case study in stylistic contrast.

A Laurie Berkner Christmas, which dropped at the end of October, is a true-blue kid’s album – and quite a decent one, on that level, with a strong mix of mostly-acoustic classic songs and carols, a smattering of cute and catchy originals, and a full reading of The Night Before Christmas at album’s end. And notably, every single one of the eleven reviews it received on Amazon since its release have given it five glowing stars.

But it isn’t designed for us. It’s designed for our children. And therein, I think, lies the challenge.

You see, while Berkner’s new holiday album might be fun for little kids, it’s not accessible to discerning adult ears. The originals focus on the commercial and toy-oriented aspects of Christmas: of the thrill of Santa’s arrival, of the way Christmas lights flash and blink, and of a character called Candy Cane Jane, who lives, inevitably, on Candy Cane Lane. The singing has that too-jolly ring of enunciated clarity which typifies albums played out for the pre-school set; the music seems typified by the same type of overly amplified pep, and the inclusion of the ubiquitous kid’s chorus, and of other slightly out-of-sync accompanying voices, is clearly designed to engender a child’s sing-along affection while sacrificing multi-generational listenability.

In this, Berkner’s holiday collection represents the limited range of her chosen subgenre – appropriate for wee ones, but narrow in scope, dubious beyond that age level, and potentially cloying to the grown-ups in the room.

Here at Cover Lay Down, we don’t underestimate our children’s capacity to see deeper meaning in the trappings of the world. Instead, we believe that good parenting means sharing content with our kids, and choosing that content carefully, with an eye towards how it represents the values we hope to pass down to them. As such, we define good family music as that which grows with our children, and that which we can enjoy sharing with them.

And unlike A Laurie Berkner Christmas, Sunny Christmas – the new holiday EP from LA-based singer-songwriters Renee & Jeremy – fits our criteria to a T.

As we’ve seen over the past few months here on the blog, Renee & Jeremy are true kindiefolk performers, whose records are designed to be enjoyed as music for all ages. Their 2012 all-covers album A Little Love is accessible to kids, but designed with families in mind; the videos which they’ve released as part of the project have been equally darling, with little stories and animated worlds that delight and tug at the heartstrings. And the songs they cover – by The Monkees, Coldplay, Simon & Garfunkel, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more – are clearly chosen for kindie parent ears, with layers of meaning that expose deep and often bittersweet themes of each song; as such, each has fit comfortably among the folk coverage in our thematic posts.

Which makes us especially happy to find that Sunny Christmas is no exception to their family-friendly approach to music. Hushed and gently upbeat without losing the essential sweetness of both the songs and the singers, totally authentic in temper and tone, the five classic seasonals and newly-penned title track which comprise the EP make for an infectious little popfolk gem of a record, a perfect gift for the kids or folk family in your life. And you’ll find nothing of the commercial side of the holidays here: the lone original, a joyously poppy exultation, plucks the community spirit of love and social gathering from the air, plants it firmly in our hearts, and urges us to take it everywhere we go.

But don’t take my word for it. By offering streaming samples of all their albums, Renee & Jeremy have made it easier to taste before you buy. And they’ve even given us a wonderful holiday gift to share: brand new copies of both of their 2012 releases, which we’re giving away as a stocking-stuffer set to a lucky reader.

To enter to win our contest, leave a comment below naming your favorite childhood holiday song, and make sure to include your email or contact information. I’ll have the kids pick a random number at the end of the week, and we’ll send the winner both A Little Love and Sunny Christmas in time for holiday gift-giving; keep it, or pass it along as a gift to kids of any age, with our highest recommendation.

In the meanwhile, we encourage folks with small children to sample tracks from A Laurie Berkner Christmas to make up their own mind, and have included Berkner’s version of Little Drummer Boy below, which is one of the more family-friendly and listenable tracks on the album. But since we’re not so objective as all that, we’ve also included a single track from Sunny Christmas, a widget to sample the entire EP, Renee & Jeremy’s 2010 single version of Little Drummer Boy, both videos from A Little Love, and a cover of Renee & Jeremy song It’s A Big World from equally-celebrated family band Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem. Because good music makes a great gift for the little ones in our life. And our love of this fine kidfolk duo is big, indeed.

Renee & Jeremy: Give It Away (orig. Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Renee & Jeremy: Yellow (orig. Coldplay)

Remember: leave a comment below naming your favorite childhood holiday song to win a 2-CD Renee & Jeremy stocking-stuffer prize package. And stay tuned later this week for more new Holiday Coverfolk from folk artists, labels, and multi-genre compilations!

23 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Kidfolk, Renee & Jeremy

Covered In Kidfolk: WIN Elizabeth Mitchell’s new tribute to Woody Guthrie!

June 28th, 2012 — 12:43 pm

“A trailblazer in the world of gentle, truly beautiful folk interpretations of pop, rock, and classic children’s tunes for the younger set… anyone who has not purchased [Elizabeth] Mitchell’s first few albums cannot claim to have a functionally complete set of good kids music in their home.” (Cover Lay Down)

As noted above in a February 2011 feature on the local kidfolk scene, we’re huge fans of Elizabeth Mitchell here at Cover Lay Down: thanks to her pitch-perfect delivery and her penchant for coverage, the NY-based teacher-turned-performer has been a mainstay of our Covered in Kidfolk series since day one, and her delicate, lullaby-esque takes on songs both lovingly retuned and curiously transformed have peppered our tribute sets to artists from Neil Young and Gillian Welch to Lou Reed and Bob Marley. So although we were mildly critical of her last album Sunny Day, news of a new release from Mitchell – a headliner act on the kiddie circuit whose star has risen so far she now hosts the Family Stage at the Newport Folk Festival – is good news, indeed.

But having steeped in it over the last 48 hours, I’m pleased to announce that Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie is a career highlight from a well-admired artist: a full-length tribute to the kidsong canon of none other than Woody Guthrie himself, featuring eight newly-recorded tracks and five previously issued favorites, to be released on Smithsonian Folkways on July 10th in honor of what would have been Guthrie’s 100th birthday; a collection of short songs that soar like tiny birds, sure to stick in the throat and linger in the heart of parents and children alike.

Like Songs To Grow On For Mother & Child, the seminal 1947 children’s folk album from which it pulls the majority of its source materials, Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie is designed to be a family affair – not just for kids, but for adults to enjoy with kids. In this context, the tribute is apt and adept, with Guthrie’s simple tunes and often quite sparse lyrics gracefully and honestly remade, beautiful in arrangement and execution: a strong contender for kidfolk album of the year, come December.

Her inclusion of harmonies from daughter Storey, cousin Penney, friends Amy Helm and Ruth Ungar, and husband Daniel Littleton, alongside tinkly pianos, funky percussion, fiddle drones, and subtle strummed guitars, make the perfect setting for a family celebration of songs that raised a generation of folkies and rabblerousers. The universal, timeless subjects they evoke – rain, land, grass, sky; work, play, music, sleep – prove the viability of the form, and then set a new standard for it. And for those of us who grew up on the originals, the album is a delight, illuminating the child within.

While you’ll have to wait until the release date to order direct from the label, thanks to the kind curators at Smithsonian Folkways, we’ve got a copy of this amazing tribute to kidfolk and canon to give away to a lucky listener. To enter for a chance to win Little Seed: Songs For Children by Woody Guthrie, just name your favorite kidfolk tune in the comments; we’ll pick a random winner sometime on Sunday. And make sure to include your email address, so we can contact you if you win.

In the meanwhile, listen and sing along to this pair of new recordings from Little Seed, an older video of a Guthrie tune repurposed for this new collection, and a long-overdue tribute to the coverfolk of Elizabeth Mitchell. Embrace the child, inner and alongside.

  • Elizabeth Mitchell: This Land Is Your Land (orig. Woody Guthrie)

  • Elizabeth Mitchell: Bling Blang (orig. Woody Guthrie)

    [from Little Seed: Songs For Children by Woody Guthrie, 2012]

    Elizabeth Mitchell: Grassy Grass Grass (orig. Woody Guthrie)

15 comments » | Elizabeth Mitchell, Kidfolk

Missing Mama: Songs for the Single Parent
(A soundtrack for love at a distance)

May 25th, 2012 — 06:02 am

We’re braving it alone this week, the wee one, the elderchild and me. And though this meant an especially sniffly, snuggly Monday night, happily, the four stages of grief have passed quickly in such intense, obvious circumstances, leaving us accepting, if not yet perfectly balanced in our adoption of the adapted dance that is life with Daddy.

If I’m nervous but grateful for the chance to try, it’s in no small part because my time with the kids is too often stolen from Mama’s world. From the moment we find ourselves on the other side of the uterine wall, anxiously waiting for the emergence of parenthood, daddies learn to live with a little distance: to always be outside, separated by the skin, our relationships retarded by gestation even as mama grows fat with the pending person we call our own. By the time we get to meet our special someone, she’s already been nine months communing with the one she calls Mama. And now she’s breastfeeding, which makes Mama needful in a way with which we cannot compete.

Being the breadwinner doubles the distance. The traditional model of Dad as half-projected partner and inevitable other bears true on the ground when you’re just not there for the daily rituals of to-and-fro. The relative ignorance I experience this week is a reinforcing symptom: in three days, I’ve learned that it’s not worth the buffet price if the kid is only going to eat white rice, that forgetting to bring homework to dance class can lead to sheepish note-writing, that an after-school stop at the local farmer’s market makes ice cream unavoidable.

The fact that we’re still all safe and sane is a testament to the fact that, in many ways, Mama is still here. The menus and memos she left for us on the fridge are a touchstone; the pre-portioned bags of chips and cookies in the cabinet allow the kids to pack their own lunch with little fuss. Having clothes and schedules laid out before us is a bulwark against the ADHD Dad, and the potential for ongoing anxiety that such combination contains.

But distance makes the moments that much more precious; without absence, we never truly appreciate presence. Having Mama on the other side of the phone is bittersweet, but we could not feel this sense of mutual pride if we were not trying to make it on our own. I’m not just learning how to manage the morning routine, I’m also learning to live through the jealousy, a lesson that will take me a lifetime, for sure.

But oh, what a gift a week can be; what a joy it is to close the gap that Mama fills, if only for a fleeting moment.

And so we offer a family-friendly tribute to the distances we travel, every moment, to capture and celebrate each others’ hearts: a love song soundtrack of commitment, for those who leave and return, every day and every hour, like swallows in our lives. It’s what I’ve been listening to, late at night when the kids are in bed, and the fragile world is still spinning around.

Renee & Jeremy: Yellow (orig. Coldplay) [via]

3 comments » | Kidfolk, Theme Posts

A Very Kidfolk Christmas Mix
(A seasonal starter kit for hip moms and dads)

November 25th, 2011 — 11:54 am

Unless you’re living totally off the grid, it’s hard to ignore the signs. Church Christmas bazaars and crafts fairs pepper the New England landscape, their wreaths and wraps and wooden ornaments a constant temptation. Television relationships get warmer by the fire; the commercials all begin to come in red velvet and white fur trim. Even the older family down the street has gotten into the act, draping the gutters with fauxcicles, topping the old stump with a glittering wire angel, trimming the lawn with white plastic snowmen and skeletal reindeer that blink furiously into the late November night.

I dither on this every year – far be it from me to provide the tipping point in a world where urgency for the next big event so easily smothers the authenticity of the here and now. But it’s not too early for the soundtrack to a season if people are already holiday shopping. And my tracking software tells me the hits for Christmas searches are on their seasonal uptick.

So here’s the perfect alternative to crass commercialism and the acquisition drive: a reclaimed set of songs to kick off the season in style, geared towards the family hearth but open to children of all ages, merry and bright with the joys and hopes of the year, perfect for those long drives to the mall or the holiday feast.

Most of these songs come from their own collections, so if the spirit moves you, don’t forget to click the links to share in the joy. I’ve also buried a few other holiday gift suggestions in the text this year, the better to guide your kiddie list shopping towards the earnest and honest.

Heck, I’ve even added a zip file, for convenient downloading – an early holiday gift from our family to yours. Enjoy.

    We kick things off this year with a gentle non-denominational sing-along from our favorite “all ages” folk songstress (and hubby Daniel). Her debut You Are My Flower still makes the best birthing gift I know for the children of folkfans.

    A touch of Burl Ives and a healthy dollop of good humor make this a rollicking good rendition of a familiar classic. Originally from a 2005 solo holiday album recorded in an Adirondack cabin, but like the Kate Rusby track that follows, found on A Family Christmas, Putumayo Kids’ wonderful 2009 kidfolk-and-more collection.

    You’ll probably have to explain what wassailing is (it’s a lot like caroling, but with more feudal class consciousness, and an expectation of food, drink, and gifts in exchange for the song). But the joyous bounce in Kate Rusby’s arrangement, originally released on Sweet Bells in 2008, speaks for itself.

    My six year old hums and wiggles along to this one as we sit by the fire playing Callisto. Both the game and the band come highly recommended for the bright pre-bluegrass set.

    Ah, the Rankin-Bass Christmas canon, now available in one great collection on DVD. Sure, the songs generally pre-date the TV specials, but why make them stand alone? As one of our most downloaded songs ever, this yearly favorite from Apple’s 2003 holiday disc has proven its legs.

    Something new to our playlist this year: the Sufjan original is a grungy rocker, and the Luke Flowers indiefolk cover quite slow and mellow; The Standalone hew closer to the former, dropping the electric guitar for an acoustic, covering the spread with great folk-rock and an anthemic flourish.

    A live-track gypsy swing revival (with a hidden hillbilly verse, and a fake slavic coda) for the bloodshot set. Off A Christmas Spanking, which provides about as much playfully upbeat fun for the whole family as we’ve come to expect from the band.

    Don’t be deceived by its synthesized intro – this bouncy banjo punk track from the mid-nineties has an urgency that kids can’t help but feel in their feet. Bonus points for more Grinchiness; buy a set with book and the original video for the full effect.

    Though technically out of print, early Jim Henson TV special Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas isn’t hard to find in an age of instancy, and its message and its artistic craftsmanship are still relevant today, able to compete with the shiniest of the new. Rose Polenzani – whose YouTube Christmas coverage is legendary – hits its opening number out of the park, finding new sentiment in a sensitive tone.

    Yes, it’s the Chipmunk song; yes, the original drives many of us bananas. But solo artist Run On Sentence makes it sparse and sentimental without losing a whit of the energy or playfulness of the original.

    We’re eschewing the overtly religious in this week’s playlist, the better to encompass the breadth of practice in our readership and your modern family. But the recitation of the beasts in this old hymn have always struck me as childlike, and Sufjan’s warm approach to the song is magical, indeed. Families with a willingness to engage in the full religious range will enjoy the progression of sound from acoustic to electrofolk that runs through the five EPs of Sufjan’s christmas package – it even comes with stickers, stories, and a sing-along songbook.

    One of Vince Guaraldi’s finest becomes a sweet ballad in the hands of singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas, whose sentimental yet predominantly upbeat holiday album won our hearts several Christmases ago and still rings true today.

    The Snowman has a stronger presence in the UK, but both book and holiday special rank high in our home for their silent-yet-magical storyline, their vibrant colors and lines, and the tale of warmth and friendship they extend to the world. A stuffed snowman toy from Gund that was the wee one’s favorite soft companion for years comes highly recommended, too.

Snag the whole 2011 Cover Lay Down Kidfolk Xmas Mix as a zip file!

5 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Kidfolk

Covered In Kidfolk, Vol. 12: Sesame Street
(Social Songs and Learning Vehicles for Cool Moms and Dads)

August 9th, 2011 — 10:08 am

The elderchild and her smaller sister are growing up fast, as kids are wont to do. They don’t need kidfolk so much anymore – are starting to make their own choices about music and listenability, and tend to prefer playfulness and performability to nuance or lyrical narrative, a trend which I suppose will linger until they hit their teens and begin to look for ways to identify themselves as “other”. They play unattended, and wander the folk festival grounds on their own; they do musicals, as their parents do, and sing the songs around the house for months.

But they also recognize a growing set of theme songs and jingles. Because now that they’re able to make their own choices, they spend more time than I’d like staring at screens. And though the prevalence of supposedly rich, interactive PBS and Nick Jr. programming on the computer makes it seem like a better bet than television for those thoughtful, deliberate parents who feel guilt at the thought of using the TV as a babysitter, with bandwidth coming into its own in the past few years, much of that content is in the form of full-screen episodes. Setting limits isn’t what it used to be.

As a teacher of media and communications, I have mixed feelings about children’s television – though my primary critique is truly about the passive gaze which television itself engenders, and about the easy willingness of parents and caregivers to allow the tube unfiltered access to the developing mind, despite ongoing caution from the pediatric and psychological communities that the best way to make room for television in a child’s life is to watch with your child, and model active, critical viewing through ongoing interaction throughout.

But Sesame Street is one of the good guys: thoughtful and deliberate from its inception, educationally and developmentally grounded, it is also rife with nudge-and-a-wink content geared towards making the act of active companionship not just tolerable, but actually pleasurable for the accompanying adult. When Jim Henson, whose characters remain the primary deliverers of so much of the musical and textual content of this groundbreaking show, populated the show with furry monsters and neotenic blue-skinned people, the vast majority of them significantly younger and more innocent than the adult human cast, he created the perfect vehicles – a cast able to wonder why out loud, and show pride in their growing understanding of the socio-cultural experience.

The team of lyricists and composers who have worked with the Children’s Television Workshop over the years – Joe Raposo and Jeff Moss, especially – understand that the songs they write should reach a multigenerational audience, and transcend the limitations of age, all within a span of two minutes or less. And though there are a surprising number of punk and ska covers out there, those who have taken on the Sesame Street songbook without irony understand that effective coverage requires both a gentle hand and a generous dollop of joy. For us, that means an easy journey past pop, and towards the singer-songwriters and indie camps, where musicians understand that sharing feelings and asking universal questions are a vital part of the folkways.

I’ve posted most of these songs here at one time or another. But it feels good to put them all in one place. The resulting set is a mixed bag of upbeats and downers, one which may be more nostalgic than practical for those of us whose children are already in grade school, but I’m confident it will also serve as a shared experience of gentle glee and poignancy for those whose kids depend on them to provide their media content. In either case, if we’ve raised them right, I’d bet a rubber duckie and a paper clip collection that one day they’ll come back to them with us.

  • Reid Jamieson: Sunny Day
    We start our set this week with a delightfully warm, appropriately loving take on the Sesame Street theme song, now in service for over 40 years and 4,000 episodes, recorded earlier this year by Canadian crooner Reid Jamieson as part of a free, full-album-length coverset in honor of his wife’s birthday. Snag the whole thing here.
  • Elizabeth Mitchell: Ladybug Picnic
    Once a fast-paced counting song that accompanied one of Sesame Street’s infamous mid-show animation blocks, here, with bells and guitar, Ladybug Picnic becomes a gentle albeit still rapid-fire lullaby in the hands of Kidfolk fave Elizabeth Mitchell.
  • Mates of State: Jellyman Kelly
    James Taylor wrote and performed this fun little storysong for the Children’s Television Workshop show way back in 1979, complete with oom-pa and kid chorus; the following year saw the release of a studio version on ex-sister-in-law Lucy Simon’s Sesame Street songproject In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record. Here, a slow indie carnival take calls back to and updates the original performance, kids, tuba, and all. From For The Kids Three.
  • Dan Hardin: Sing a Song
    There’s plenty of cheesy covers of this one out and about, from The Carpenters’ 1973 top ten hit to a version with the Dixie Chicks and some Muppet chickens. By adding a dash of late-night hope, Dan Hardin makes it simple and beautiful again, all by himself.
  • Ferdz Ines: Everybody Sleeps
    A lesser-known Raposo composition, typical of his work in the way it addresses the universality of the human condition. Fillipino YouTuber Ferdz Ines, a resident of the UAE, channels Richie Havens and David Bowie, transforming the song into an upbeat acoustic rocker with guitar and drum machine.
  • Andrew Bird: Bein’ Green
  • Rex Hobart & The Misery Boys: It’s Not Easy Being Green
    Two vastly different takes on what is perhaps the most covered song in the Sesame canon, thanks to signature performances on both The Muppet Show and Sesame Street – and appropriately so, given the song’s message of difference, diversity, and acceptance. Andrew Bird’s swooning live french version is due to appear on The Green Album, a forthcoming Muppets tribute album; Rex Hobart’s deep countrified take can be found on kids alt-country album The Bottle Let Me Down, as can Kelly Hogan’s Ernie cover above.
  • Josh Radin: Sesame Street (Sunny Day)
    A maudlin, minor-key version of the Sesame Street theme, originally solicited by indiefolk patron Zach Braff for Scrubs. Josh Radin channels the street as an unreachable destination, a lost childhood utopian state that scars the heart by its very absence. We know better.

Today’s feature was brought to you by the number 12, and by the letters C, L, and D.

4 comments » | Kidfolk

Covered in Kidfolk, Vol. 11: On Keeping It Local
Plus: WIN the Putumayo Kids Acoustic Dreamland CD!

February 11th, 2011 — 12:24 am

As we’ve alluded to in our recurring Covered in Kidfolk series, there’s a growing universe of family-friendly music out there that doesn’t suck, and a large portion of it seems to be centered around the American Northeast region which we call home.

Not all of it is folk, of course – increasingly, alternative music, world music, and even rap have found a niche in the hands and ears of cool moms and dads, who continue to insist on healthy yet artistically mature songs which they can enjoy alongside their offspring. But collectively, such music provides an apt antidote to the Disney, Kidz Bop and Barney crowd, filling a need for those of us who want our children to appreciate “real” music which nonetheless still contains themes and narratives which can appeal to the young.

Though surely supported, at least in part, by hip, up-to-date TV programming from Yo Gabba Gabba to Laurie Berkner to Sesame Street, it is also true that even as music listening habits move ever-closer towards the private headphone experience, global sea-changes have provided a more stable platform for family-centric music. A growing set of kidblogs and radio programs seem to be sustaining a renaissance of anti-pop, hold the cheese; “kids tent” performers continue to astound at local festivals from Clearwater to Falcon Ridge, and increasingly, concerts and festivals for kids can be found well beyond the traditional places – mostly elementary schools and libraries – to find a home in local churches, rock clubs, parks and outdoor arenas.

Here in our local area, for example, we find a cohesive community continuing to build around Bill Childs, who along with his daughter Ella hosts Spare The Rock, Spoil The Child, a weekly “indie music for indie kids” program which first began broadcasting on a small community radio station when Ella was just a toddler. Spare the Rock was picked up by regional AAA indie-to-folk alternative station WRSI a year or so ago, and since then, Bill and now-nine-year-old Ella have leveraged the exposure into a growing empire of dad-mom-and-tot-friendly music, encompassing multiple local weekend matinee concert series, Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti – a benefit CD which kidblog Zooglobble called “the year’s best family music compilation and one of the year’s best kids music CDs, period” – and Kindiefest, a Brooklyn-based family music conference and concert scheduled for the end of April, set to feature Elizabeth Mitchell, Robbie Schaefer, Dean Jones, Laurie Berkner, Verve Pipe and more as panelists and/or performers.

More broadly, on a universal scale, the new musical models of distribution which typify the digital age seem to have leveled the playing field somewhat, making what was once a niche market better able to thrive alongside the broader spectrum which the web supports. A trip to your local library may reveal a surprising upgrade in the taste and spectrum of what’s available out there, with delightful small-label and self-released works from Trout Fishing In America, The Nields, Hullabaloo, and much, much more, their bluegrass and folk finding space in and among the Raffi, Pete Seeger, and Ella Jenkins collections which have traditionally been the mainstay of any good kids audio collection. Heck, I’ve even found myself skimming the stacks for works which will ultimately be more for me than the kids, depending on their taste, despite the children’s label.

One of the biggest drivers of this trend is Putumayo Kids, who – like their parent company before them – has carved out a place for their well-curated world and folk music collections both within and beyond the usual venues for music. Their product, found but on the shelves of trendy, upscale, and bohemian toy stores from here to California, stands along with Melissa and Doug projects, toys, and puzzles, raw cotton dolls, wooden playsets, and other such deliberately crafted delights an an antithesis to the music which lies dying and unsold alongside the plastic trinkets and popcult princesses that populate mall culture.

Putumayo Kids’ newest release, Acoustic Dreamland, which is due to drop February 22, is a particularly strong example of the increasingly great work which comes from the well-respected publishing house, and I’m quite proud to have had a hand in helping to curate the songs on this particular sampler. The selection is inspired, if I do say so myself: delightful covers and originals from Hem, Rosie Thomas, and other artists which we have touted for their more mature, adult-themed work here on these pages stand alongside surprisingly mature work from Rick Scott, Victor Johnson, and others who have dedicated their careers to making music nominally for kids, though I think you’ll find that this is a set which stands on its own as sheer music, joyful, pensive, and potent, regardless of who’s listening.

As with most Putumayo’s output, most of the songs here have appeared elsewhere – we’ve previously shared Lucy Kaplansky’s delightfully smooth, sweet take on Mary Chapin Carpenter lullaby Dreamland, for example, which appears on 2007 kidfolk lullaby collection Down At The Sea Hotel, and I’ve posted my own contribution, the atmospherically layered acoustic dreamscape William Fitzsimmons makes of James Taylor classic You Can Close Your Eyes, which originally appeared on 2008 classic popfolk covers collection and Teach For America benefit Before The Goldrush, more than once as well.

But the collection overall is seamless, making sequence and the novelty of any new discoveries well worth any duplication. As with previous Putumayo releases, too, this collection, while cohesive, is also diverse enough to pretty much ensure that many artists here will be new to you, and those that are will surely prompt futher discovery – for example, I’m determined to pursue the works of Daniel Martin Moore after his utterly amazing original The Hour Of Sleep, whispery with piano, plucked tenor guitar, brushed drums and strings, got stuck in my head on first listen, and I had totally forgotten about the late-night majesty of Mark Erelli’s lullaby rendition of Wilco deep cut My Darling. And two previously unreleased tracks, otherwise unavailable – a gorgeous sleepytime rendition of the Allman Brothers’ Blue Sky from Elizabeth Mitchell in an increasingly rare solo turn, and an original track from Frances England entitled Here With Me which I find truly charming – are almost enough, in themselves, to justify the cost.

Highly recommended, in other words – both for adults and kids. And though I hope you’ll buy copies of Acoustic Dreamland for every expectant and new parent you know, thanks to the kind folks behind the record, I’m offering two lucky readers a copy of the CD totally gratis, so you can sample the wares for yourself before you stock up for summer births and birthdays.

To enter to win a copy of Putumayo Kids Presents: Acoustic Dreamland, comment on this entry with your opinion about the songs and strategies discussed at the END of this entry, OR email me with the same information. Don’t forget to include your email, so we can notify you if you win.

In the meantime, here’s a pair of favorite covers from the new collection, plus a few other tracks from previous gems in the Putumayo Kids catalog, to listen to while you cue up to enter the contest or go off to purchase the CD for yourself. Trust me: whether you’re a parent or just a fan of good acoustic songcraft, this one will stay in the disc changer for a long while to come.

As a coda of sorts to today’s feature, let me note that although we generally stick to celebration here at Cover Lay Down, and though I truly love the Allman Brothers cover above, I have mixed feelings about Sunny Day, Elizabeth Mitchell’s newest album – partially because I think Mitchell’s voice seems weaker here, partially because there’s less of the transformed-for-kids pop and rock songs which she featured on previous releases, and partially because as her family ages, Mitchell and her performing partner and husband Daniel Littleton have begun featuring their daughter Storey’s untrained voice in an increasingly doggerel-driven canon.

Don’t get me wrong, here: I’m not suddenly turning against Mitchell and her family. We’ve long championed Mitchell’s work as a trailblazer in the world of gentle, truly beautiful folk interpretations of pop, rock, and classic children’s tunes for the younger set; I still maintain that anyone who has not purchased Mitchell’s first few albums cannot claim to have a functionally complete set of good kids music in their home. And both Putumayo and the Spare The Rock crowd respect her work as I do: Mitchell is a mainstay of Putumayo Kids canon, and she was given late-afternoon feature act status at last year’s Many Hands release concert, which was sponsored and emcee’d by Bill Childs.

But though some of the tracks on Sunny Day are sweet and light, albeit a little more ragged than her previous work, those which include her daughter are much harder for me to listen to. There’s love there, for sure, and smiles beaming through the music, but prioritizing that love over performance isn’t without its cost: music by kids doesn’t always have the same raw audiophillic tone or represent the same mastery from a purely artistic perspective, and that’s absolutely the case here. And I worry that Mitchell has sacrificed some of the music’s appeal in her attempt to continue what we surely should respect as an organic and fully celebratory evolution of the family as music-maker.

Should we listen all the same, to honor that artistic process? Should we reserve judgment, and see what the kids say? Is it simply mean to criticize a kid singing joyfully if somewhat shyly on her parents’ record, or is it acceptable to criticize the parents for asking us to lower our expectations for what their music sounds like in return for celebrating their process and family life? I’m not sure. But I will say that the goal of our Covered in Folk features has always been to find and feature music which can be shared, and I’m not sure this new path Mitchell and her family have chosen includes me or other adults as a listener. As such, if we’re talking about music for children and adults to enjoy together, I can’t recommend this one as highly as I did her previous works – and would note, as well, that at the aforementioned Many Hands release concert, neither parents nor kids seemed as engaged with Mitchell’s family music as they did with the higher-energy acts which preceded or followed them, though to be fair, that may have been the result of putting music which has always thrived on intimacy in a large, open-air space.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe, unlike her previous albums, this one isn’t for me, and I’m just missing the concept. But either way, I’d be interested in your opinion – and I’m interested enough to make it a criteria for today’s contest to win the Putumayo Kids Acoustic Dreamland CD. So here’s a covertrack or two from Sunny Day, one with Storey, and one without; let me know what you think, making sure I get your email address alongside, and I’ll enter you in the Putumayo Kids contest.

847 comments » | CONTESTS, Elizabeth Mitchell, Kidfolk

Covered In Kidfolk: Halloween, Redux
Ghostly Ghouls and Spooky Tunes For Cool Moms and Dads

October 29th, 2010 — 08:56 pm

It’s Halloween weekend, and the convenience stores are already crawling with costumed partiers, weaving to and fro in the aisles with their masks askew. Back at school, the kids are having a Halloween black-light dance; here at home, we’re gearing up for a Wonka Weekend – I’ll be the Candyman, the better to hand out treats; the wee ones are a Oompa Loompa and a squirrel, respectively; and won’t we look grand, in bright costumes and borrowed wigs, at the local children’s museum tomorrow evening, then up and down the streets of smalltown America on Sunday proper.

It’s hard to keep the momentum going, what with the show itself coming up fast and furious, midterms upon us already, and a long conference down the Cape towards the end of next week. But it’s important to keep the spirits up and about, the better to parent you, my dear. Here’s last year’s entry, then, a soundtrack for the wee ones in your lives and hearts.

Halloween in our tiny township is a community affair: most homes are too remote to manage, so we trick or treat downtown at storefronts and darkened sidestreet porches as the skies darken, making our way to the edge of town just after twilight’s end. There, we line up for our annual parade down Main Street, and – at the signal from a guy dressed as a traffic cone, or a phalanx of Roman gladiators from the high school football team – march onward to glory, and a costume contest and cider and popcorn balls to follow in the majestic granite edifice that serves us as town hall.

It is, to be honest, the quintessential, defining night of small scale life here in New England, this parade with no spectators through the middle of town, and I often cite the occasion by way of explaining our idyllic existence: how it feels to find yourself in the streets, alight and vibrant against the cold, good folks and friends and families marching to the left and right of you, their faces shared wonder under masks and makeup.

And so Halloween in my house is about costumes, plain and simple; my sweetheart is a creative soul, a locavore Paganesque Martha Stewart, and we’ve won prizes in past years for the caterpillar, and the flamingo beak she perched upon my head. This year, for the first time, the girls have not chosen a paired set of costumes: elderchild will go as a gothic vampire in crushed velvet cape and ruffles; the wee one will be “Sleeping Beauty but I’m awake now Daddy”, complete with pull-me cart transformed into a resting place fit for a tiny pink princess’ hundred year nap. I’ll be a house; if you knock on my door and yell “trick or treat”, I’m offering miniature board games, their pressed sugar game pieces lovingly ensconced in tiny cardboard game boards.

That their thoughts are full of candy and dress-up play, rather than considering what lurks in the dark spaces as the leaves fall and the world grows ever-cold, is as much a function of our own modern lifestyle as it is the bland commercialism which tames all holidays in our electric-light culture. They’re neither superstitious nor scared of the dark, this grounded post-media generation, and so there’s nothing to be scared of here: no monsters under my childrens’ beds, no devils in our spiritual framework. Our ghosts are characters in stories, no more and no less supernatural than talking mice, stepmothers, running gingerbread men and princesses.

Perhaps because coverage follows culture, there’s nothing terribly frightening in tonight’s pre-Halloween kidmix: no nightmare-inducing songs, nothing lurking in the shadows which cannot be explained away with a kiss and a smile. But there are zombies, wolves, and a myriad of other creeps and crawlies, and heck, the Monster Mash isn’t scary, either, when you get down to it. From reincarnated cats to grim grinning ghosts, then, here’s a double-digit set of the lighthearted best for the young set on Halloween.

  • The Duhks: Death Came a Knockin’ (trad.)
    Nominally an optimistic song of spiritual acceptance in the face of death. But the close harmonies of The Duhks lend just the right touch of ghoulishness and discomfort for smaller ears.
  • Maria Muldaur: Heck, I’d Go (orig. Dan Hicks)
    Aliens stretch the limits of fearful creatures of the night, I suppose, but I’ve yet to hear of a UFO sighting in full daylight. Call ‘em the spooks of a starwatching scifi culture. From Muldaur’s Swingin’ In The Rain.
  • Noah and the Whale: Devil Town (orig. Daniel Johnston)
    A surprising number of Daniel Johnston tunes translate well for kids. Must be Johnston’s innocence. Though Noah and the Whale‘s ragged, slightly spooky take doesn’t hurt, either.
  • Pete Seeger: John Brown’s Body (trad.)
    Even before its melody was borrowed for something a bit more patriotic, this traditional tune was a song of glory. But any lyric that begins with a body mouldering in a grave fits right in here. From Dangerous Songs!?

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and sets each Wednesday, Sunday, and the occasional otherday.

1,317 comments » | Holiday Coverfolk, Kidfolk

Covered In Kidfolk, Vol 10:
More Lullabies and Softsongs for Cool Moms and Dads

June 9th, 2010 — 11:33 pm

I don’t sing my children to sleep as much as I used to. Now that they’re older, and need more time to wind down after long days at school and play, bedtime has by necessity shifted to something more solo, wherein we read a story or two, kiss their brows, and then leave them to their own devices, letting them read or listen to audiobooks before they drowse into dreamland at their own pace.

It’s good to give our children the space to find their own rituals as they grow; important, as a general case, to help them develop the habits that will take them into adolescence and adulthood, leaving them with the tools to be healthy and sane. But we are human, and it bruises the heart to be less wanted, less needed, even if it is natural and necessary in the face of that growing independence.

And so, occasionally, when they ask me to stay, I acquiesce, and bring out the dulcimer, to pluck gently at the strings, and sing the old lullabies while they smile and stare at worlds beyond the ceiling in the dark. And back downstairs, while they play quietly in their own little worlds, I still sift through the sands of new releases with an ear cocked towards the stairwell, snagging sleepsongs as I find them with my little girls in mind, in the secret, futile hope that one day, they will be small again, in heart if not in body, and there will once again be occasion to use them.

We posted our original Lullabies and Sleepsongs post – our very first Covered in Kidfolk feature here on Cover Lay Down – way back in November of 2007, framing the series as an antidote to that pap that passed for kids music in the disco era. Or Barney songs. Or that awful, too-chipper CD of baby-fied classics your mother picked up at her local all-natural toy store (sorry, mom). And I’m proud to say that today, after a long and successful run of kidfolk features on a variety of subjects, we have maintained that standard, offering an ongoing series of playlists for cool moms and dads to enjoy with their kids, instead of merely tolerating them as an endemic aspect of parenting.

Since then, my own personal need for such songs and sets has lost its urgency, it’s true. But my own lullaby collection has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks in part to a batch of new and newly-discovered musicians playing in and around the kidfolk canon. And the songs deserve celebration, however bittersweet it is to collect them. And perhaps you need them, as I needed them once, to help your own wee ones drift off into their own infinite lands of nod.

Today, then, we revisit some old favorite lullabies and quiet songs – keeping the best of our original entry, and adding newer recordings and foundlings into the mix as warranted. Whether you’re a parent of growing young ones yourself, or just a kid at heart, may you find solace and slumber here.

  • Grey Sky Girls, Oh Susanna (orig. Foster)
    So many covers of this classic folktune. In our original entry, we featured a version by the Be Good Tanyas, off of Blue Horse, which is also excellent. But local gals the Grey Sky Girls go sparser, and dreamier, making for a softer, gentler set.
  • Zubot & Dawson, May You Never (orig. John Martyn)
    When I suggested Zubot & Dawson’s fluid, guitar-and-fiddle-driven folkjazz cover in response to a recent call for lullabies for an upcoming Putumayo Kids sampler, their rep noted that the mention of a barroom fight made this song ineligible for their consideration. Fair enough, and fair warning. Beautiful nonetheless.
  • William Fitzsimmons, You Can Close Your Eyes (orig. James Taylor)
    Perhaps my all-time favorite lullaby cover, posted previously in other guises more than once. And there’s even more depth here if we note that indiefolk singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons was raised by blind parents. From 2008 classic 70s folkpop cover tribute Before The Goldrush.
  • Childsplay, Love Me Tender (orig. Elvis Presley)
    The most recent release from New England string collaboration Childsplay floats the etherial voice of Crooked Still frontwoman Aoife O’Donovan over the perfect atmosphere. More here, from when we first reviewed Waiting For The Dawn.
  • Peter and Bethany Yarrow, All Through The Night (trad.)
    Peter Yarrow’s voice has lost some of its clarity since he first went on the road with Paul and Mary. But on his new series of kids books and song samplers, the gravel and grace carry a power almost unparalleled, equal in scope and relevance to Pete Seeger’s kidfolk canon, or Grisman and Garcia after him.
  • Rosie Thomas, The One I Love (orig. R.E.M.)
    Surely, Michael Stipe & co. never intended this song as a child’s lullaby. But in the hands of Rosie Thomas and friends Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer on 2006 debut These Friends of Mine, it comes off as more than delicate enough for a little one’s love.
  • Mark Erelli, I Don’t Know Why (orig. Shawn Colvin)
    A child’s wonder, a child’s innocence, a child’s longing for understanding, and an adult’s almost-complete acceptance of the challenges and delights of the world as it is channelled clearly through the capable hands and campfire voice of Mark Erelli on his lullaby album Innocent When You Dream.

As always, folks, Cover Lay Down exists to promote the continued good work of artists from all branches of the folkways. If you like what you hear, please consider supporting Cover Lay Down directly, and/or clicking on artist/album names to buy some incredible music for the young and the young at heart. And remember, kids: buying music from the artist’s preferred source gives you peace of mind so you can sleep like a baby.

1,250 comments » | Kidfolk

Covered In Kidfolk: Daddy’s Little Girl, Redux
(Coversongs for Fathers and Daughters)

April 14th, 2010 — 08:19 pm

Two years ago today I paid tribute to my youngest after a whirlwind week of cake and circuses. Now here it is her birthday again, and watching her hold her own with her little friends in the midst of a Princess and the Frog-themed swim party on Sunday afternoon, it’s clear that the pre-kindergarten independence I anticipated at three has come to full-blown fruition at five.

The wee one’s grown a lot since we last featured her here, on the cusp of her first big girl bed. Her face has grown angular and thin, her hair grown back in again, long and luxurious after the unfortunate game of hairstylist gone wrong which prompted the pixie cut she sported in her younger years. Just months away from public school, she stays up late as her sister, drawing undersea landscapes, sounding out words from her picture books, copying letters painstakingly alongside her mother’s careful printing, often falling asleep curled up amidst a bedful of language.

She’s also come into her own as a person. She focuses, staying at the table with her art projects long past the predictable moment, never throwing tantrums, riding calm and confident off into the sunset on her little trike while we’re teaching her sister to go without training wheels. She’s learned somehow to stand up to her sister without hardening her heart – a miracle if ever I saw one – but she’s not determined like her sister, not bullheaded, not tomboyish, not oversensitive to the death of small creatures.

No, she’s a pink girl, this one, all Princesses and tiaras, make-up and pretty dresses, despite odds and a deliberate effort to raise kids free of the traditional trappings of gender, as if to prove the question of nature vs. nurture once and for all. But she’s still my little empath, always worried about other people’s emotions before her own. Where the elderchild seems to have inherited my anxiety, the wee one takes on the stress of the world in other ways, through curiosity and concern, questioning and please-and-thank-yous, tenderness and perceptiveness, working on and working through.

The quiet confidence is her mother’s, through and through. It’s a blessing, to see it come out like that. She’s gentle, and matter-of-fact, and occasionally wise beyond her years, and I’m proud, as only a father can be, to step back occasionally, and watch her sleep, and play, and sing, and know that she is becoming so many things that I am not, and that her life is working for her in ways that I cannot know.

The distance between us I once saw coming on the horizon has both come to pass and not come to pass. I don’t cry, as much, when I think of her getting bigger, and see her coming into her own. But she’s still Daddy’s little girl. And it still breaks my heart to watch her grow, up and away and apart.

Here’s the rest of the piece on fathersongs I wrote way back when she turned three. And the songs which accompanied that first tribute post – the ones I will always associate with fatherhood, in all its pride and secret terror. For comparison’s sake, you know. And for memory’s sake, too.

There are several popular folksongs about fathers and sons which have been covered within the genre — stellar versions of Cat Stevens’ Father and Son and Paul Simon’s St. Judy’s Comet jump to mind, though Ben Folds’ Still Fighting It remains so definitive it is practically uncoverable.

But with the exception of a few sappy countrypop tunes, there aren’t so many songs written from fathers to daughters out there.

One reason the crossgender parent-to-child song may be so rare is that it provides a weaker outlet for the narrator to project their own sense of childhood into the child. Which is to say: The narrative trick which turns a song about fathers into a song about fatherhood, which makes mincemeat of my heart in songs like Harry Chapin’s Cat in the Cradle and Mike Rutherford’s Living Years, is unavailable to us. No matter how much I love my children, I can never claim to know what it is to be a little girl with a Daddy.

But though like the moments I have with my own little girls, songs which speak directly and explicitly to our lot as parents with daughters are precious and few, what songs there are tug powerfully at the heartstrings. So today, a short set of songs which speak to my own complicated feelings for my own little girls. I’ve deliberately left out songs which name sons or mothers, though I’ve allowed myself a couple of songs which are open enough to come from any parent to any child. But this set of songs is intended first and foremost for daddies to give to their daughters. As such, it runs from sugar and spice, through everything nice. Because whether you listen as a child or as a parent, that’s what memories are made of.

Unlike our previous kidsong posts here on Cover Lay Down, a vast majority of the songs included herein were not originally intended for children. Instead, most teeter on an open line, innocent enough to apply to either a lover or a child, unspecific enough to allow a good interpreter to choose, if they wish. To me, the delivery and intention of the performances below resolves the lyrical vagueness in a way that makes them perfect for sharing between parent and child. But many work well as more general songs of love and affection. You’re welcome, as always, to make them your own in any way you need them to. That’s the heart of folk, right there.

  • Livingston Taylor, Isn’t She Lovely (orig. Stevie Wonder)
    Like brother James, Livingston Taylor specializes in sweet songs delivered in a crisp, light crooning tenor over bright acoustic stringwork. This cover of Stevie Wonder’s tribute to female innocence comes from kidlabel Music for Little People, off out-of-print collection That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of.

  • Lucy Kaplansky, Goodnight My Angel (orig. Billy Joel)
  • Eliza Gilkyson, Child Of Mine (orig. Carole King)
    A pair from the incredible kidfolk compilation Down at the Sea Hotel: Cover Lay Down fave Lucy Kaplansky with a gorgeous tune originally penned by Billy Joel for his own daughter, and Eliza Gilkyson with a breathy, slow country blues take on a Goffin/King classic which suggests misty-eyed regret even as the lyrics celebrate a child’s independence.

  • Shawn Colvin, Say A Little Prayer (orig. Greg Brown)
    So many female coverversions of songs written by fathers for their daughters. This one, which treats the late-night illness of a child with a stoicism and a lightness masking the secret fear all parents have for their sick children, is more poignant than many, more mystical than most. Shawn Colvin is but one of many strong folkwomen on the highly recommended all-female Greg Brown tribute Going Driftless.

  • John Hiatt and Loudon Wainwright III, My Girl (orig. Smokey Robinson)
    Languid and dreamy, floated over a majestic piano and guitarstrum, the beauty of this version lies in the distance between Wainwright’s melodic voice and Hiatt’s rasp. Listen for the high harmony; it’s chilling. Originally a B-side, subsequently off out-of-print Demon Records compilation album From Hell to Obscurity.

  • Ani DiFranco w/ Jackie Chan, Unforgettable (orig. Nat King Cole)
    Originally a song with unspecified female subject, this song was transformed when Natalie Cole chose to re-record it with the ghost of her father. Though the end result was a song more from daughter to father than the other way around, I think the sentiment holds, even in Ani DiFranco and Jackie Chan’s unusual take. From When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You’d Hear.

  • Ben Lee, In My Life (orig. The Beatles)
  • Chantal Kreviazuk, In My Life (ibid.)
    This song may not have been intended to speak to the way all other loves pale in comparison to the sudden, deep love we feel for our chidren, almost from the moment they are born. But it says it, all the same. Many good versions to choose from here; in the interest of diversity, here’s Aussie Ben Lee‘s tentative, nasal tenor and slow wash of sound off of recent indie tribute album This Bird Has Flown, in sharp contrast with Canadian Chantal Kreviazuk‘s bright soprano, layered over production suprisingly similar to the original, from the Providence soundtrack.

  • Billy Bragg w/ Cara Tivey, She’s Leaving Home (orig. The Beatles)
    All my fears in one song: the parents who never truly understood their child, even as she leaves them behind without a goodbye. Another repost, and more Beatles, gorgeously performed by Billy Bragg; so tender and wistful, it’s just right for the occasion.

  • Sheryl Crow, You Can Close Your Eyes (orig. James Taylor)
    One of my very favorite songs to sing to children: a stunningly simple lullaby of eternal parent/child tomorrows from James Taylor, covered in folkpop well enough for a Grammy nomination for Sheryl Crow in the Best Pop Female Vocalist category. [Edit: though William Fitzsimmons' version, recorded after this was originally posted, remains my favorite.]

  • Gray Sky Girls, You Are My Sunshine (orig. Jimmie Davis)
    I sing this song to my children, as my parents sung this song to me. Though the Elizabeth Mitchell version I posted in our very first Covered in Kidfolk post [edit: and again in January, 2010] sounds more like my parents, the simple, sweet plaintive harmony from local “organic country slowgrass” folkies Gray Sky Girls best parallels that which I hear in my head and heart.

As always, artist and album links above go to online sources for purchasing genuine plastic circles which offer the best chance of profit for musicians, and the least amount of corporate middleman skim-off. Teach your children well: support the artists you listen to.

1,712 comments » | Kidfolk

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

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