Summer is a great time for music. Whether you are getting out to hear a live concert at Grant Park, Ravinia or the wonderful neighborhood festivals, music and summer go hand in hand. And when you are looking for some great new music for those long car rides (whether vacationing or construction gazing), be sure to check out some of these new releases. This month we feature the new Justin Roberts CD as well as a few world music compilations. WAY OUT, by Justin Roberts, Carpet Square Records, $15.98, www.justinroberts.org; ages 4-8.
Local favorite and two-time Parents' Choice award-winning musician Justin Roberts has just released his fourth album. "Way Out" features a bunch of new songs that focus on family life-the kinds of things that kids and their families deal with all the time. Justin's new songs take on childhood milestones such as losing a tooth ("I Just Lost the Tooth I Lost") and even traumatic events such as getting a shot ("Doctor Doctor") often with a creative twist and sometimes with creative wordplay. One of my favorite moments comes in "Doctor Doctor" when Roberts sets up the story of the doctor's visit with the mom talking about ice cream. At the end of the song he imaginatively weaves the lyric "I scream" around and around until it becomes "ice cream."
These 12 original tunes are designed for family listening-something that all children's music artists strive for, but few achieve. Roberts' music is eclectic and sophisticated enough not only to engage the kids but also hook the adult ears. His child-centered songs and musical styles range from Afro-pop to country-rock.
Some highlights include: "Airplane of Food" a story about a big brother who is trying his best to deliver on getting his younger sibling to eat. "Tried the car, tried the plane, tried boat, tried train, tried the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, too" but, of course, nothing works. Roberts, who often has an underlying message to deliver, says, "This song is about learning that even the littlest people have their own strong minds."
"Day Camp" celebrates the summer tradition and presents it as a high-energy rock anthem with a "YMCA" type refrain, "Backyard Spaceship" tells the tale of a giant snowfall and the fun it provides while "Best Friend" is a tender, but joyful, expression of a child's feelings for his dad, puppy, mom, teacher and life itself.
But my favorite song has to be the title track "Way Out"-probably because it is the type of song that, with its echo refrains, invites immediate participation. Sure, young children love to be sung to, but I think they get the most out of the music when they become active participants. Of all the songs on this CD, the one you will most likely be singing after the recording is done is "Way Out." I know I was and so was my 8-year-old son.
Roberts' purposeful message-in-a-bottle style is evident and important here, too. This fantasy song spotlights a camel who wants to sail on the deep blue sea, a starfish who dreams of being a catfish on the open road but reminds us that sometimes we just want something we don't have.
Another standout is "Humpty's At It Again." I have always enjoyed how Roberts adapts traditional material and props it up with a twist. Here he takes the age-old rhyme about the stubborn egg that won't stop climbing up on the wall, no matter how many times he falls. He purports that Humpty simply wants all the king's horses and all the king's men to know about the big and limitless view of the world just beyond that wall.
Other songs include "Roller in the Coaster," a song that reminds us that even though life has its ups and downs, we need to enjoy the ride; "Picture Day," which I thought was about picture day at school, but actually is about a family that goes out to a photographer for family photos, and "Suppertime," the time to wind down and catch up after a busy day.
CARIBBEAN PLAYGROUND, by various artists, Putumayo Kids, $15.98, www.putumayokids.com; all ages. Just because you can't get to the Caribbean this summer doesn't mean you can't enjoy the music. This brand new release from Putumayo Kids will get everybody up dancing to artists such as Taj Mahal singing "Great Big Boat" and Desmond Dekker with a great arrangement of the classic "Jamaica Farewell." Putumayo specializes in compilation CDs that are geographically specific and it continues to release music into the children's and family music market that is carefully chosen to be enjoyed by the whole family.
GREECE-A MUSICAL ODYSSEY, by various artists, Putumayo World Music, $15.98, www.putumayo.com; all ages.
With the world's attention focused on Greece this summer for the Olympics, Putumayo has released this collection of "lively Greek rhythms" and "melodies that connect the ancient and modern world." It features internationally known Greek music legends along with some young artists who are creating music inspired by local traditions.
RHYTHM 4 KIDS: WORLD SING-A-LONG, by various artists, Naxos World, $9.99, www.naxosworld.com; ages 4-8. This CD is designed to be a musical journey around the globe starting in Senegal then heading to Australia and on through Israel and Hungary with stops in Colombia and Italy and ending in Tunisia. As you can imagine, the artist lineup is eclectic and the songs are varied and ethnically diverse. Some favorites of mine include Claudia Gomez' "El Gallo Pinto," "The Rattlin' Bog" (Golden Bough from Ireland) and Joanne Shenandoah's beautiful Native American "All Spirits Sing." The liner notes contain information about each song and even more activities are available at the Rhythm 4 Kids Web site, www.rhythm4kids.org. With a $9.99 list price, this CD should find its way into your family music library, too.Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, children's musician and producer. His Web site, www.BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children's music. The Web site also includes an archive of all Koch's past reviews published in Chicago Parent. Please e-mail notes and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.