By Fred Koch
HEAR & GONE IN 60 SECONDS! by Various Artists, Rounder Kids, $14.98, www.rounder.com; ages 3-10.
This fanciful and musically diverse compilation brings together 29 award-winning children's music artists, each with the same mission-to write and record a new song. This alone is a unique concept, but the fact that each song could only be 60 seconds in length (give or take a few seconds) was the real challenge. The producers of the project-Regina Kelland (described by Billboard Magazine as "one of the seminal figures in the kids' business) and Richard Perlmutter (the man behind the critically acclaimed CD, "Beethoven's Wig")-came up with the idea because they thought the public should know more about the vast array of outstanding talent in the children's music field. So they created "Hear & Gone in 60 Seconds!" as a vehicle to showcase these artists. The 29 featured artists come at this project from a variety of musical backgrounds and from various parts of North America, but are all dedicated to creating smart and positive music for kids and families to enjoy together. This is quite a banquet of great songs "Hear & Gone in 60 Seconds!" is loaded with lots of great songs by lots of great artists and if space permitted, I would share a little bit about each and everyone of them. Since I can't, I'm going to spotlight just a few of the many outstanding songs.
First up is Marcy Marxer, who is half of the Grammy-nominated musical duo of Cathy (Fink) and Marcy, with her happy, swingin' little piece called "Here and Gone." Next is Jessica Harper with "Hey, Picasso." Harper's voice is so lush and lovely that she could sing the phone book and keep you interested. Here, her lyrics are full of imagery: "Hey Picasso / paint the sky / put a white cloud in it / add a small red bird or two / it only takes a minute." And her melodies are lyrical and flowing. Then Chicago's own Justin Roberts kicks it up a bit with "More Than Just a Minute" with a musical feel reminiscent of Paul Simon's "Graceland" recording. Roberts covers a lot of ground here-he sings about waiting for Mom to go play and she responds "just a minute" and then he recalls his baby brother being only a minute old and then how Grandma is many minutes and that we're all just minutes. All of this in a minute. Whew!
Chicago is well represented again with Ella Jenkins, the queen of children's music, and her "A Blues Recipe" featuring Chicago legend Erwin Helfer on the piano. Ella's voice gets better all the time and it her effect on the whole children's music genre continually astounds me. David Holt, a practitioner of old-timey folk music, is in fine form, too, with his version of the traditional, and rather silly "Down Where the Watermelon Grows."
All that in the first five minutes of music. Song No. 6 is Richard Perlmutter's "Music Is a Lovely Language." Perlmutter's approach is unique and speaking as a music educator and parent, very much appreciated. You may remember my glowing review of his "Beethoven's Wig-Sing Along Symphonies" CD (Chicago Parent, March 2003). Basically he takes classical pieces and adds lyrics. But it is the way he does it that makes his work so special. He finds humorous ways to sneak in important biographical information about composers or interesting stories behind the music. Here Perlmutter uses the music of George Bizet (Galop from Jeux d'enfants) and very quickly goes through a vocabulary list of musical terms and definitions to help us understand that "Music Is a Lovely Language."
Gunnar Madsen is one of my favorite children and families artist. His "There's a Bowl of Milk in the Moonlight" has been described as a drinking song for cats. It spotlights Madsen's amazing a capella talent. Ralph Covert (Ralph's World) has written a real gem for this project, as he recalls the too-often-true lament of kids around bedtime, "I'm Not Tired." This is a well-crafted song with a great melody and I guarantee your eyelids will get heavy, too, when you hear the repeating, hypnotic lyric at the end "(I'm just) restin' my eyes."
Parachute Express is a performing group from the Los Angeles area and its "Alphabet Soup" has all the ingredients for a great soup jingle-a perky pop music track with great vocals and a memorable melody. I really like "A Tiny Little Gear" by Michele Valeri (of DinoRock fame). She sings about being a tiny little gear. "My papa is a master spring / my mama is a sprocket / one of my aunts is a windup watch / she lives inside a locket." Then, she thinks how grand it would be if she were a second hand. But she realizes she is vital, because without her, the clock would simply stop. What a great message for young kids! Speaking of kids, the only song that features a child doing the lead vocals is "Hand-Me-Down Blues" by the ReBops. And can young Anneli Blume ever belt out the blues. The authentic feel of the music really lays down a great blues shuffle groove that supports the exceptional voice of this too-young-to-really-have-the-blues singer.
A couple of my favorite Canadian artists are showcased here, too. Fred Penner sings "Heartbeat," a wonderful little song where he asks you to "listen to the sound going 'round and 'round, listen to your heartbeat." And Jack Grunsky, a master of multicultural music, invites us to "swing and sway from side to side" in "Samba One, Samba Two."
You will hear many other established and veteran artists including Bill Harley ("Five Minutes More," about getting up in the morning), Peter Alsop ("Peaceful Feet," a campy little ode to some little stinkers), Katherine Dines ("Zoom," a fantasy trip to the stars), Tickle Tune Typhoon ("Travelin' the U.S.A," which covers 50 states in 60 seconds), Gary Rosen ("Opposites"), Dan Crow ("Little Blue Chevy") and Dave Kinnoin ("Gotta Be Mine"). Other artists include Tom Paxton, Dennis Hysom, Joanie Bartels, Michael Mish, Cathy Fink, Rachel Buchman, Maria Del Rey and Kim and Reggie Harris.
Sure, there are lots of children's music artists who are not featured on "Hear & Gone in 60 Seconds!" (Where's Laurie Berkner? Dan Zanes? Greg & Steve? Tom Chapin? Jim Gill?) It only makes me hope that plans already are in the works for Volume 2.
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