Media Watch: CD Reviews

Frog TroubleBoynton, Sandra. Frog Trouble and Eleven Other Pretty Serious Songs. Workman, 2013. Illus. by Sandra Boynton. $16.95 book and CD. ISBN 978-0-7611-7176-8.
Boyton has written (or co-written with Michael Ford) a dozen country-style songs that feature animal characters in this delightful collection. This is similar to the songbooks with CDs that Boynton issued in the past, including Philadelphia Chickens (Workman 2002), Rhinoceros Tap (2004), Dog Train (2005), and Blue Moo (2007). Each song is performed by a noted recording artist, with full musical accompaniment (not a synthesizer), and the songs are done in various styles.
Dwight Yoakum opens with “I’ve Got a Dog,” a jaunty song that would be fun to learn and perform at storytime. The Fountains of Wayne follow with “Trucks,” that harkens back to the trucker songs of the 1970’s.  “Frog Trouble,” performed by Mark Lanegan, may bring to mind Tennessee Ernie Ford (complete with finger snaps) or “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”  Kacey Musgraves sounds a little like Brenda Lee for “Heartache Song,” about a kid who doesn’t want to take a bath or go to bed.
Piano man Ben Folds is appropriately paired with the honky tonk song “Broken Piano,” while Ryan Adams channels his inner James Taylor for the ballad “When Pigs Fly.” Brad Paisley, known for his wit on talk shows as well as his hit records performs the comedic “Copycat,” while Josh Turner croons “Alligator Stoll,” perfect for country line dancing.
There are three songs that could work as lullabies, with lilting vocals and mellow musical accompaniment. Darius Rucker sings “Beautiful Baby,” a love song between parent and child. Broadway veteran Linda Eder performs “Deepest Blue,” and Alison Krauss croons “End of a Summer Storm.” The CD ends with a driving version of “More Frog Trouble” that is reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s movie soundtracks.
The format of the book divides it into three sections. The first features one of Boynton’s signature animal cartoons facing a page with the song’s lyrics, followed by a section with the sheet music, with the final section containing photos and short bios of all the performers. Not really a picture book, this may be most suited to the Dewey music shelf (782) or the section with books and CD packages.
So many children’s musical recordings can grate on the nerves of parents; that is so NOT the case here!  In fact, adults may be caught listening to this on the car stereo, when there are no kids in the car.  It stands up to multiple listenings due to the great artists, both the vocalists and the musicians, as well as Boynton’s great songwriting. She is able to pair child-centric lyrics with authentic country music themes and styles in a way that works very well. Great songs and great performers make this something that will stand the test of time.

Robertson, Robbie, et. al. Legends, Icons, & Rebels: Music That Changed the Legends IconsWorld. Tundra, 2013. 124p. $29.00 (book with 2 CDs). ISBN 978-1-77049-571-5.
Grammy-winning founder of The Band Robbie Robertson and colleagues have written a lovely coffee table book aimed at young people, celebrating the influential 20th century icons of popular music.  The book comes with two music CDs embedded into the back cover, containing one song from each of the 27 people/groups profiled in the book.  Both the children’s and young adult music history shelves should welcome this book.
     The songs are all age-appropriate for children ages nine and up, and some songs like Ella Fitzgerald’s “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” are even fun for younger kids. Each cut is the original single or album cut, not a remix, to give the reader a good idea of what that person or group sounded like, and what genre of music the artist helped to invent. From the Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” to Elvis’ “Hound Dog,” it is clear why these people are icons.
Each profile is four pages in length, beginning with a quotation from Robertson on the person’s influence, facing a full page painting of the person or group.  These illustrations are original to the book, and were created by a variety of magazine and book illustrators using various media and techniques. The book design is very attractive, including page decorations and quotations placed on colorful backgrounds.
The next two pages contain the text of the person’s profile, with some biographical information, then focusing on their achievements and why they were unique and influential to popular music. These entries are short but really pinpoint how the person or group changed music. Each entry lists five songs to listen to, that further supports the icon’s importance.  The text is written at the 5th grade level, making this accessible for upper elementary school students through high school; adults would even appreciate this lovely book.
Those profiled represent various music genres that make up popular music, including country singers Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline, rock icons Chuck Berry, The Beatles, and Buddy Holly, folkies Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, R&B greats Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Otis Redding, song stylists Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, reggae king Bob Marley, and jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday.
In this type of collective biography, there can always be quibbles about who was left out. In this case, all of those included are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as performers or in the “Early Influences” category, so none should have been replaced. If there was room, it could be argued that a few others could have been added, from Bobby Darin to Rick Nelson, more women including the Supremes or Rosemary Clooney, to the founders of rap or hip-hop. But maybe they could be included in a sequel!  Back matter includes a timeline, brief bios on the four authors and 15 illustrators, and list of songs (with credits) on the two CDs.
Never Play MusicLithgow, John. Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo. Illus. by Leeza Hernandez. S&S, 2013. $17.99 book and CD. ISBN 978-1-4424-6743-9.
In the style of a Souza march blended with Broadway energy and storytelling lyrics, this song celebrates animals at the zoo. Lithgow’s singing style blends a talk-sing style with oompah bombast that suits the story perfectly, and makes it easy to identify every word he is saying.
Basically, this is a picture book with an accompanying CD containing a singing read-aloud of the book’s text. Lithgow is accomplished at this type of thing, and he is paired with solid musical accompaniment that exhibits the joy of the piece. Comic touches are trumpets that sound like elephants, and a nice mix of tempos and styles that suit the lyrics.
Even without the CD, this works well as a picture book. The text and illustrations stand alone (although the CD adds even more fun), so this is a good library purchase. The comic style of full color paintings, depicting animals playing musical instruments, compliments the text. The artwork was rendered digitally, and resembles gouache on textured white paper.
The narrative contains lots of fun wordplay, such as “The bonobo played oboe, the ferret the flute, the jackal attacked the bassoon. The hippo had chosen the tuba to toot, by the light of the silvery moon.” The book has a strong storyline, about a boy who falls asleep at a concert in the park, and awakens to see animals from the zoo next door taking over the instruments. The text is set on the pages not in straight lines but in curving, swooping lines that help convey the musical nature of the story. This readaloud will be fun at storytime as well as a joyful book for preschool or primary grade music teachers.
Various. “Absolutely Positively Getting Along,” Cool Beans Music/East Coast AbsolutelyRecording, 2013. $15.00 CD, UPC 657434719130.
Twenty-seven songs and poems by various artists make up this CD commissioned by the Boys and Girls Club of America, to promote friendship, anti-bullying, and positive behavior. All the artists donated their time and talent, and the proceeds go to the charity Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bucks County, PA.
The songs reflect various genres of music from folk to light rock, reggae to Broadway. The compilation opens with Pete Seeger and friends singing the anthem “Wonderful Friends,” followed by Robbie K’s “The Path,” that has an African vibe. Two of the best are the Zydeco-style tunes “Light of Love,” from Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could, and “Talk It Out” by Sarah Pirtle. Each cut on the CD promotes the overall theme of friendship, including sibling friendships and mentors.
Spoken word pieces, backed by musical accompaniment and sound effects, are offered by Julian Lennon, Melba Moore, and a few others. These are nice breaks in between the musical selections and could be used for school assemblies.
Each song is accompanied by accomplished musicians using a wide variety of acoustic and electronic instruments, and in some cases top notch backup singers. This is the type of children’s album that can appeal to adults due to the professional nature of the recording and the lack of “cutesy” lyrics. Elementary school music teachers are likely to find songs they can use for their classes, too.

Penny Peck, San Jose State University, School of Library and Information Science

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