I've been a teacher for almost fifteen years, and a Daddy for five; I'm lucky to be able to live in a world where I can be with kids, and play. But other than a short period of time where my daughter's favorite song was Andrew W.K.'s thrashpunk anthem She Is Beautiful, this means there's a constant struggle in my house between what I like to call "that same damn circus record" and what the kids dismissively refer to as "Daddy's music".
But listen up, Dads (and Moms): when the kids demand more appropriate age-specific earcandy, we don't really have to lose. In a world where an entire generation is trying to keep their cool in the face of diapers and snailspace trick or treating, you don't have to listen 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). There's a brand new crop of kidsingers out there -- a holy host, from Dan Zanes to a thousand younger artists -- and they're not afraid to get 'em while they're young.
For the indie and rock crowds, I suppose, this demand for "real" kidmusic does seem to have opened up a new niche market. But folk music has long carried the torch for the authentic in kidsong. My 1970s childhood was filled with acoustic guitar and rough-tinged voices on already-old records from Guthrie and Leadbelly, and newer acts from Peter, Paul, and Mary to Bill Staines. When folk music came back for the Fast Folk second wave, it brought along its sense of childlike wonder; the demand bought Grisman and Garcia and Taj Mahal a second round of folkfame, and made way for new acts, like the jamgrass-for-kids Trout Fishing in America.
Since then, as the new generation grows through its indie stages, our favorite streetwise musicians grow up and have kids of their own -- and out come the guitars and the quiet, simple voices, calling up half-remembered favorites from a time when everything was simple and pure. Suddenly, everyone's a folk singer.
Like ice cream comes in vanilla and chocolate, kids songs come in two primary flavors, the quiet and the silly -- but there are infinite variations from creamy to nutty. Next week, maybe, we'll get a case of the sillies, and need to shake it all out. Today, three generations of folksingers -- oldtimers Bill Staines and Garcia/Grisman, fastfolker Shawn Colvin and bluegrass staple Alison Krauss, and a host of newer artists from the wide margins of modern folk -- bring us a set of lullabies and resting songs for a quiet Sunday afternoon.
- The Be Good Tanyas, Oh Susanna (orig. Foster)
Get Blue Horse. Because if americana rocks, and all the great indiefolk bands come from Canada, then Canadian americana has a coolness quotient of eleven point five.
- Jack Johnson, We Are Going To Be Friends (orig. White)
It takes a special kind of genius to make the White Stripes accessible to kids. Johnson's stellar acoustic interpretation of this tune is one of many golden moments on Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George.
- Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Littleton, You Are My Sunshine (orig. Davis)
My favorite rendition of a favorite kidsong. Get Sing Along With Putamayo (or any of Mitchell and Littleton's You Are My... series) for this and many other wonderful not-just-for-kids interpretations of classic kidsongs. Put in CD player. Sing along. Repeat at bedtime.
- Robert Skoro, Michael Row Your Boat Ashore (trad.)
Skoro is an up-and-coming indieboy who has been compared favorably to the Shins; this mellow cut is from Down By The Riverside: An Album Benefiting Reuben Lindh Family Services. How come Minneapolis gets all the cool acts?
- Alison Krauss, Baby Mine (orig. Mrs. Jumbo)
A little looser, a little deeper south: if the original was middle America, this one's a train through a sleepy Georgia town, two in the morning and too hot to sleep. Off of A Hundred Years or More: A Collection.
- Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, A Shenandoah Lullaby (trad./Brahams)
Mandolins and bedtime stars and a rough-voiced Garcia at the waning peak of his power segue into a slow, sleepy instrumental Brahams Lullaby with strings. Goodnight, sweetheart. Get Not For Kids Only.
- Rex Hobart, It's Not Easy Being Green (orig. Kermit)
All the cool dads are listening to recent Bloodshot Records indie-fave The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides.
- Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (trad./Taylor)
A wash of sound and a ticking backbeat from alt-star Maida and folkrocker Kreviazuk make this almost-pop cover sing. From the exquisite and highly recommended benefit series For The Kids; the just-released Vol. 3 includes kidsongs by Rosie Thomas/Damien Jurado, Mates of State, Of Montreal, Great Lake Swimmers, and other indie darlings.
- Shawn Colvin, Seal Lullaby (orig. Wilder/Kipling)
Kipling's gentle nightpoem plays exceptionally well as a piano ballad. Colvin's Holiday Songs and Lullabies is sweet and subtle in December...and all year 'round.
- Bill Staines, Home on the Range (orig. Higley/Kelly)
Oft-covered New England folk icon and 1975 National Yodeling Champion Bill Staines plays us a fireside classic. From American Lullaby: Folk, Country, Gospel and Old-Timey Bedtime Songs, which includes great covers and great originals from a cast of legends and Grammy winners.
Click 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.