Songwriting that soars to new heights
Friday, August 22, 2008
ROCKETSHIP RUN by The Laurie Berkner Band, Two Tomatoes Records, $18.98, twotomatoes.com; ages 2-6.
It is not that Laurie Berkner has not been busy. She made the rounds earlier this year and appeared on The View, The Today Show and Live with Regis & Kelly. And in 2006, the concert DVD, "We Are… The Laurie Berkner Band" was released. Plus she is a staple on the NOGGIN TV channel, Nickelodeon’s educational preschool station. But it has been six years since the release of her highly acclaimed CD "Under A Shady Tree."
"Rocketship Run" is a delightful collection of mostly original songs and, as most reviews will undoubtedly state, it was worth the wait. Berkner is a true superstar in the genre of children’s music and has positioned her brand wisely.
Though she certainly could whip out a new recording each year, she has chosen not to—a move I applaud. Instead she teamed up with Scholastic Books in 2004 to create a book/CD combo around her popular song "Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco." She also worked with Elefanten children’s shoes to create a compilation CD of her songs to serve as a fund-raiser for early childhood arts education programs. And Berkner contributed one song, "I Want It," to Marlo Thomas’ book/CD combo project "Thanks & Giving All Year Long" in 2004 (another must-have recording for all families.)
The nice thing about not releasing a new recording every year is that when you do create a new CD, you have a bigger bank of songs to choose from. That raises the probability that the audience will be treated to the best of the best songs.
Here are some of my thoughts and favorite songs from "Rocketship Run."
n The title song "Rocketship Run" blasts off quickly and is a catchy and very singable song—one that kids will no doubt enjoy for its fun and action.
n "Mouse in My Toolbox" might be my favorite song on the CD. It is a fanciful little story about what goes on at night when she hears "a bang bang bang with my hammer/and a turn turn turn of my screwdriver/there’s a paw on my saw and an eye on my drill/and a little tail is wrapped around my pliers." We soon find out the reason is because "the mouse wants a house like my house." This song has it all—lots of easy rhythms to play and sing along with, fabulous imagery and a cute unique story line.
n I don’t know why, but initially I didn’t think I would like a song titled "Candy Cane Jane," but this is another of my favorites. It could certainly stand alone as a poem because it has all the inherent elements that make a good poem work: vivid imagery, rhythmic cadence and a childlike story line. But when you couple poetry with a melody that reinforces the text and instrumentation that supports and embellishes the lyrics and melody you have something very special. I have talked about this many times before, this is the artistry coming alive. And it is something that all too often is not present in music for children. But Berkner has concocted some sweet magic for "Candy Cane Jane," who along with Gumdrop Joe simply loves to go galloping in the snow.
n "Jump and Fly" (penned by Adam Bernstein, the bass player) is a funky groove that makes a quick reference to some of the most famous superheroes (Superman, Super Woman, Spiderman) but is really an invitation for kids to get up and move. Again, there is great, age-appropriate content with a hooky chorus that will have everyone singing along before the song is over.
n To close out the first half of this 24 song, 52-plus minute recording is "Winter Lullaby," a beautiful gentle waltz with the text coming from poet William J. Smith and music adaptation by Berkner’s keyboard player Susie Lampert. It is another gem that combines tender lyrics with equally tender and supportive music.
These are the songs that speak to me and if we had room I could describe some of the other noteworthy songs in hopes of convincing you to go out and buy this CD. To my ears, this is the best Laurie Berkner recording to date and that says a lot because I really enjoyed "Under a Shady Tree."
I don’t know if we can use the analogy for Berkner here that "Rocketship Run" has taken "one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind" but her writing and production sensibilities have certainly soared to great heights with the release of this much anticipated CD.
Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, recording artist and producer. His Web site, BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children’s music. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.