(Disclaimer: I was given a promotional copy of this album for review).
The Junie B. Jones book series by Barbara Park has sold over 60 million copies worldwide. Junie B. Jones fans may delight in the recently released album Junie B. Jones: The Musical cast album, (released on January 13, 2017) especially those that have attended a performance. Geared toward 3-9 year olds, the musical stars Junie B., a spunky first grader who has normal elementary school issues with friendships, classroom expectations, and getting glasses for the first time.
Marcy Heisler who teamed with Zina Goldrich for this “first ever recording of the hit musical” explains: “No matter what age you are, Junie B. and her quirky, honest, heart-on-sleeve, whip smart take on things is something sure to resonate. She reminds us we are all in first grade sometimes, even as adults- maybe even especially as adults. I think both adults and children appreciate how real Junie B’s triumphs and struggles are”
That may be, but I find this album really hard to digest. I’m generally not a fan of adults singing like kids, even when it’s a musical with kids as main characters. Admittedly, I’m reviewing the album without the opportunity to see how the play as a whole integrates with the musical numbers and perhaps that’s unfair. Part of the magic of musical theater, after all, is being in the audience and witnessing the exchange between character, narrative and audience. Even with that recognition, most of the songs are challenging to listen to from beginning to end, slickly imitating bits of other, more famous harmonies and musical styles. This can successfully serve to introduce young children to various styles of music, such as gospel (track 7) and broadway (track 9) but other kids musicals I’ve seen (Elephant and Piggie’s “We Are in a Play” comes to mind) do this in a much less annoying and more original way. There are a few exceptions- track #2 “Lucille, Camille, Chenille”, track #7 “Now I See” and track #15 “Writing Down the Story of My Life” are catchy, well written tunes. My guess is that like the Junie B. Jones book series, listeners will either really like or dislike this musical cast album. Fair or not, the album as a whole doesn’t work well enough for me to give it more than one listen.
Disclaimer: I received a promotional copy of this album for review.
With so many great kindie musicians (especially here in the Pacific Northwest) a new children’s album has to really rock for it to keep my attention. I recently had the chance to preview Wonderful You by Vanessa Trien & the Jumping Monkeys. This is the Boston-area musicians’ fourth children’s album, and it’s available starting October 14. This album and Vanessa’s vocals are reminiscent of kindie music queen Laurie Berkner, especially songs like “Magic Wand” and “One Foot in Front of the Other”. Special guests on this album contribute some of the best performances, and include Alastair Moock, Barbara Brousal, and Rani Arbo.
Many of the songs have a strong, danceable beat and address common childhood themes like imagination, friends, and feelings. I found the songs “Wonderful You” (jazzy and fun with rhyming lyrics) “Chi Chi Bom Bom” (featuring nice bluegrass accompaniment) and “Willie and the Hand Jive” most appealing. Some of the others could be better (“All Together Now” features children’s voices which I’m rarely a fan of, “Monkey Jump” is too frenetic and repetitive). While there are some great songs on here, others just have too much going on to be revisited. I suspect they are more enjoyable in a live performance. Overall, this album was a mixed bag for me.
Note: I received a promotional copy of this album for review.
Greg Page, a retired member of the original Wiggles has a new Christmas album, “Here Comes Christmas” released on November 24. The Wiggles have entertained toddler and preschool crowds for years, and grownups seem to either like or strongly dislike them. I can listen in limited doses, but was interested in learning whether a Christmas album by a former band member would work.
“Here Comes Christmas” contains 26 songs, including four “bonus” tracks (completely unrelated to Christmas) that promote Page’s kids TV show, Butterscotch’s Playground. I hoped it would exceed my expectations by offering a palatable departure from the Wiggles world (although the fact that “the original Yellow Wiggle” is under his name on the album cover was a clue). But unfortunately this album, at best, is a mixed bag. While several songs are enjoyable (versions of “Let It Snow”, “Little Drummer” and “Christmas Song” are worth your time), it relies too heavily on showy, sappy renditions of favorite Christmas tunes. Some incorporate kids singing along and annoying sound effects, both irritating habits with children’s music. If you and your kids are fans of the Wiggles, check it out. Otherwise you may want to save your sanity and enjoy something else.
(Note: I received a promotional copy of this album for review).
When Laurie Berkner releases a new album it’s a good day. Her latest album, out in late October, doesn’t disappoint.
Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs is a 2 disc album packed with 51 traditional kids songs and 6 bonus tracks of Berkner originals. Adults will recall many of the songs from their own childhoods, but these classics have a fresh sound. One of my major complaints about kids albums featuring “classics” like The Itsy Bitsy Spider and The Ants Go Marching is the grating sound of kids singing slightly off key to poorly arranged tunes. You won’t find that here.
There’s a playful rock and folk influenced feel throughout the album. Familiar tunes like “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” (track 4) and “Frog Went A Courtin” (track 16) have a modern approach perfect for today’s preschool crowd. Her versions of “Where is Thumbkin” (track 10) and “Wheels on the Bus” (track 14) could be great for storytime programs. One of my favorites from this album is “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (track 6); it features a jazzy, upbeat trumpet accompaniment. If you’re a parent of young children or work with kids, I recommend adding this album to your core music collection.
You can find a sampling of songs (plus lyrics to all the songs) on her website.
(Disclaimer: I received a promotional copy of this album for review)
Those of you familiar with Laurie Berkner’s music won’t be surprised to hear that her new album is full of lively, danceable music. I dare you to listen and try to sit still. Laurie Berkner has been described as “the undisputed queen of kindie rock” by USA Today. The Ultimate Laurie Berkner Band Collection, released last month, is a compilation of greatest hits and fan favorites from six previous albums. She says the new album consists of songs “I’ve been requested to play over and over through the years and are classics at my concerts”. Berkner is very gifted at lyrically capturing kids’ interests through music; families, bugs, making messes, and driving cars are some themes you’ll find in this fun collection. Many of her songs encourage young kids to play with their imaginations, whether it’s riding in an airplane (The Airplane Song #9), reading a book with a purple dinosaur inside (These Are My Glasses #13), or trying to track down a missing birthday cake (Where is the Cake? #3) . Some of the tracks focus on movement. A song called “My Energy” (#8) declares “this is me, this is me and my energy…I’m gonna wiggle my legs, I’m gonna click my heels, I’m gonna stomp my feet, because I have energy!” Another song, “Shake Your Body Down” (#17) asks “Do you wanna to play a game?…Stand up tall…move from side to side…make your body wide…shake your body down, shake it up and down, shake, shake, shake it up and down!” These would work well in a music and movement themed storytime program. Three “never before released” bonus tracks complete the album with a total playing time just under an hour. I recommend The Ultimate Laurie Berkner Band Collection for both long-time fans and those who are just getting familiar with good kids music. I also recommend her previous album from 2010, The Best of the Laurie Berkner Band. I’m looking forward to seeing more from her soon.