Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Covered in Kidfolk, Vol. 5:
Barnyard Tunes and Critter Songs for Cool Moms and Dads



I grew up in the suburbs, where wildlife was scarce, though we had our share of squirrels and birds, and the occasional rabbit sighting in the backyard. When we wanted to see larger animals, we generally headed out to Drumlin Farm, a working farm run by the Audubon Society, where caged birds of prey lined the path to the chick hatchery, the pigs and sheep gave birth every spring, and you could always spot the queen in the glass-lined, thin-sliced beehive, if you looked long enough. There was a pond, too, for crawdad spotting. Well worth the membership, and the half hour drive.

These days, we live in the country, where turkeys congregate around corners year round, and the neighborhood dogs roam aimlessly throughout our lives. Round these rural parts, Spring brings a whole mess of animals into the yard, from the new baby robins that nest in our holly bush to the frogs, toads, and salamanders that scatter when the kids run through the tall grass and hollows. On weekends, it's a five minute jaunt through the woods to the dam and its shady, overgrown waterways, where turtles, ducks, and beavers play in the water, and the fish practically jump on the hooks the moment we throw our lines in.

On hot days, we head up the hill to Westview Farm, where the new baby goats skitter up and down the concrete barriers, butting heads and bleating; in the evenings, the mother cow in the grazing field across from our driveway lows to her new calf. This year, the neighborhood has even been graced by a family of foxes; we haven't seen the mother and her kits yet, but the father runs past our windows and down into the growing darkness just about every day towards suppertime.


The world of kidsong is chock full of songs about animals, and for obvious reasons. A healthy child's life is full of nature, and nature is full of life. Too, the developing awareness of what it means to be alive, and be part of a world full of other things that are alive, is an important part of child development; songs which portray the various relationships we have with animals -- both wild and domesticated -- help prepare us to think deliberately about our world, and our place in it, as we grow up to become parents of our own.

Today, in service to this aspect of development, we present a sprawling collection of animal coversongs from my growing kidfolk cache. Most predate the phenomenon of song authorship. And with artists such as Tim O'Brien, Nickel Creek, Garcia/Grisman, and Seldom Scene lead singer Phil Rosenthal on the list, the set skews towards the bluegrass, but I make no apologies for this; it is only very recently, with the advent of the NYC indie bluegrass scene, that bluegrass has begun to leave behind it's associations with rural community and farmlife, and this makes it good solid folk music in my book.

But regardless of origin, as with all previous entries in our Covered in Kidfolk series, the point here is to provide a respite from the cheesy, cloying pap that passes for mainstream children's music, that we might -- as cool moms and dads -- stay true to ourselves while providing our children with music that befits their age, and their emotional and developmental needs. I think this particular set hits the mark admirably. Whether these songs speak of the swamp or the barnyard, the woods or the stream, each is wonderful, in both the usual sense and in the older sense of the word: full of the wonder which we should nurture in every child, and in ourselves.



As always, folks, links above go to label- and artist-preferred sources for purchase, not some faceless and inorganic megastore. If you like what you hear, buy, and buy local, to help preserve the little spaces, for the little people you love.

18 comments:

Chris in Happy Valley said...

Fantastic stuff! It's been my mission since my son was born to find kids music that wasn't, as you so aptly described it, cloying pap. These are great tracks and I look forward to adding them to my collection. Thanks for the great post!

Divinyl said...

Wow BH, a HUGE post! And, as always, excellently written! Now, where can a steal a little person to play there to? (I joke, I swear!).

DG said...

Cool Moms and Dads tend to just play their kids the same music they listen to. And Pete Seeger, of course!

boyhowdy said...

An interesting point, DG.

I'd say that if these musicians -- Pete Seeger included -- are not already what you're listening to, then they're well worth pursuing.

But I'd also note that there really is some music that isn't for kids...and there really is a developmental need for certain subject material, lyrical simplicity, and certain kinds of songscale and harmonic development in and with kids music that isn't served by ONLY playing kids the "same" stuff you listen to...unless YOUR taste runs towards those needs, and serves them completely, which is unusual, but not impossible.

I say that, incidentally, as someone whose eldest daughter's favorite song at age 2 was "She Is Beautiful" by Andrew WK...and who has seen some great sets at the Kids stage at several wonderful folk festivals.

Kurtis said...

Great stuff Boyhowdy! I have a soft spot in my heart for ladybug picnic.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Steve Goodman's Barnyard Dance!

boyhowdy said...

Anon: Just been getting into Steve Goodman since I started the blog. Is Goodman's Barnyard Dance a cover / has it been covered? If so, I'd love to hear it...

Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

brendan said...

Great post. I love children's music, probably because I'm still a Toys r us kid, unwilling to grow up. This is just fantastic stuff tho.

The only thing I was already familiar with was the Not For Kids Only record. Have you seen the ludicrous Ronnie McCoury vid on youtube??

You can be sure these tracks will reach my 2 yr old nephew's ears! Kudos boyhowdy.

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