Music Review: Love & Peace/Pickin' & Grinnin'

Filed under: Preschoolers, Big Kids, Activities: Babies, That's Entertainment, Music

A seminal children's music label celebrates its 25th with two big anthologies. Credit: Music for Little People.

Various Artists: Peace & Love and Pickin' & Grinnin' (Music for Little People)

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the influential children's record label, Music for Little People, is releasing two era-spanning compilation CDs. Together (or individually, for that matter), the discs offer listeners quite an interesting survey of children's music history from Woody Guthrie to Dan Zanes.

The first CD, titled Love & Peace: Greatest Hits for Kids, starts off in a way that might horrify some modern parents -- with a Raffi song. But while today's proud-to-be-hip moms and dads might have a knee-jerk reaction to the bearded troubadour, listening to the influential "Baby Beluga" alongside the likes of Peter Seeger makes you realize how truly classic Raffi's sound was. Unfortunately, the Raffi tune is followed up by a traditionally cutesy version of "The Good Ship Lollipop." But please stay tuned, because things pick up drastically from there.

Once you get past "Lollipop," you get a kickin' Cajun tune ("Choo Choo Boogaloo") courtesy of Buckwheat Zydeco, a smoothed-out version of "La Bamba" by Los Lobos, an astonishingly fun cover of "Grandma's Feather Bed" by Brenda Lee, and Laurie Berkner's party-starter, "I Really Love to Dance." There's a wonderful a cappella "Teddy Bear's Picnic" performed by '60s crooners The Persuasions, a surprisingly stirring rendition of "If I Had a Hammer" by AC/DC's Brian Johnson (yes, the same gravel-throated voice that belts out "Back in Black") and a group of child singers, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo doing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in the way it was originally intended -- as a lullaby. The mix is really quite good.

The second album, Pickin' & Grinnin': Great Folk Songs for Kids, being focused on one specific genre, doesn't offer as much variety as its companion disc, but as a children's folk anthology, it certainly fulfills its rollicking, acoustic mission. With Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Doc Watson -- and their current-gen successor, Zanes -- it certainly feels authoritative. But even here, we get some pleasant diversions from the theme with soulful R&B-infused versions of "Shortnin' Bread" and "Pick a Bale o' Cotton," and Sweet Honey in the Rock harmonizing sans backup instruments through "Little Red Caboose." Despite all the sophisticated, experimental, rocked-out kids' music making a splash these days, I have yet to meet a preschooler who wasn't ecstatic to burst into "I've Been Working on the Railroad." These albums remind you why.

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