Two veteran children’s music performers, Tom Chapin and Red Grammer, have released new CDs worthy of your attention. Each is an award-winning artist with a commitment and history of creating exciting and memorable music for children and families.
SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, by Tom Chapin, Razor & Tie, $15, www.tomchapin.com; ages 8-10.
It is hard to believe this is Tom Chapin’s 11th family CD. It seems like it was just yesterday when I first listened to "Family Tree," his first release—which is still a favorite at home and with my students.
Chapin continues to make his mark in this genre by releasing one delightful recording after another. Each time he strives to create another recording of original, exciting and family-friendly songs. He certainly accomplishes his goal with this new release.
Chapin is a songwriter at heart and knows the power of a well-crafted song to reach children. I’ve been listening to his music for more than 15 years and Tom Chapin is my favorite songwriter for kids in the 8- to 10-year-old age group.
My third- and fourth-grade students love every Chapin song that I bring to class and my 9-year-old son has played "Great Big Words" (from Chapin’s "Billy The Squid" CD) dozens of times this past week.
Chapin knows kids and is a clever and masterful songsmith. Like many children’s music performers, Chapin started writing songs because he recognized a need for quality and appropriate music for his own children who at the time had "outgrown toddler music, but weren’t ready for the radio yet."
The title of "Some Assembly Required" could be a metaphor for growing up and Chapin suggests, "There’s a sense that you have to put this life together one piece at a time, and sometimes there’s instructions, and sometimes there’s not." What parent wouldn’t agree?
This universality comes through loud and clear in these 15 songs. From the first track, "Puppy at the Pound," with its familiar family conversation set to Cajun-flavored music, to the proverbial lament "Only One Shoe," to the hilarious twist brought to the dance floor in "Don’t Make Me Dance," all spotlight Chapin’s magical ability to make the everyday ups and downs of life a delightful adventure.
There are many outstanding songs on this recording including "Questions," designed to get families talking and thinking, "Brown Gold," a kid-friendly lesson on composting, and the tender "Home Is the Welcoming Sound," written and sung from the heart by a daddy who travels and works on the road.
But the one that reaches out and grabs me every time is "Walk the World Now, Children." It features Dan Zanes with New York’s Pilgrim Baptist Choir and the press release calls it a "moving environmental anthem" that "feels like an old folk classic." I couldn’t agree more.
The first verse sets the tone:
Walk the world now, children. Walk it now with me.
Walk the world now, children. Walk it now with me.
Walk the world now, children, treat it lovingly,
And the world will last forever and a day.
Other verses include "drink the water, breathe the air, work the land" and follow the same lyrical format.
This is another superb example of how the emotion of a simple but profound lyric is taken to a higher level with a musical arrangement that complements and supports the melody and passion of the words. This is the artistic touch and sensibility that all performers strive for but is elusive for so many.
It is no accident that Tom Chapin is a multi-Grammy award-winning artist. He is the genuine article—doing family music for the right reason. It doesn’t hurt that he is incredibly talented, too.
It’s tough to find appropriate and engaging music for the 8- to 10-year-old group, so be sure to check out "Some Assembly Required" and Chapin’s other family music releases at www.tomchapin.com.
BEBOP YOUR BEST! by Red Grammer, Red Note Records, $15, www.redgrammer.com; ages 7-10.
Red Grammer, like Tom Chapin, comes from the folk music tradition. "BeBop Your Best!" is a collection of songs co-written with Pamela Phillips Oland that addresses character development head on.
This is a somewhat new subset in the children’s music genre, but the issue of character development is one that teachers and parents have always felt deeply about, so it is no wonder that CDs with songs that focus on this topic have started to emerge. And any aid we parents can get with this vital issue should be welcomed with open arms.
These songs focus on concepts such as truthfulness, integrity, kindness, caring, compassion, respect and responsibility. I have heard quite a few of these types of CDs. The problem with most of them is that they simply talk "to" the kids, often in a style that is much too "teachy and preachy" for my tastes and an instant turn-off for kids. Grammer’s approach here, which is also the trademark of Chapin, is to set the concept in a story situation. Songs such as "Perseverance" and "Citizenship" tell stories and cite examples of these ideas in a non-condescending manner, rather than just telling children what they should do and how they should behave.
Writing songs for children that help them get in touch with these ideas and attitudes is a real challenge. It is all too easy to fall into the "you should do this, you should do that" mode of song writing (and talking with kids).
Grammer doesn’t and that’s what makes this new CD unique. Grammer also knows that children need a good dose of variety in their music, so the CD features a wide variety of musical styles. It even includes jazz trumpet legend, Maynard Ferguson, on the title track.
Red Grammer has one of the finest voices you will hear in children’s music and it is spotlighted wonderfully on "BeBop Your Best!" To hear samples of four of these songs, go to www.cdbaby.com and enter Red Grammer in the search box.
Thank you for reading and if you get a second, drop me an e-mail to let me know what you think of our reviews or make a suggestion. I would love to hear from you.
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 email@example.com.