Kids’ Music, for Grown-Ups
We remember being kids in the seventies and eighties, and some of us raised kids or had young siblings during the nineties. The Muppets and Sesame Street reigned supreme, with their apparent rock influences pushing into the music. Then there were shows like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which had that stellar piano combo and compositions put together by jazz great Johnny Costa, and later Blue’s Clues, which featured percussion-based jazz with cool world elements. The creators of these shows took obvious care in selecting music which was as good as the entertainment value of the productions. Plus, they seemed to think that kids could actually handle listening to excellent music.
The notion that kids need decent music as much as adults is home territory for us. Therefore, we’re taking the time to point you in the direction of a pair of wonderful offerings from a couple different artists.
Randall Goodgame: Slugs & Bugs
If you don’t know about the Slugs & Bugs empire, get ready to be inundated. Back in 2007, Randall and fellow Nashville singer-songwriter (and all-around great guy) Andrew Peterson released Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies, full of the silliness of Veggie Tales, and crafted with Goodgame’s and Peterson’ poignant and poetic lyricism and with the splendid sensibilities of all their Nashville session musician friends. Ben Shive, the producer and multi-instrumentalist behind albums by acts such as Colony House, Dave Barnes, and Rend Collective lends his talents. So do producer Gabe Scott, drummer extraordinaire Paul Eckberg, and banjo player Ron Block of Union Station
The record was a huge success, and it became the cornerstone of Randall’s main career direction from then up to the present. He went on to make four other albums in the same vein, including volumes one and two of Sing the Bible with Slugs & Bugs, two projects which put straight Scripture to music (including hilarious, weird verses like Deuteronomy 14:21—“Do not eat anything you find already dead). On these he brought even more talented friends to the table—folks like harmonica player Buddy Greene, the African Children’s Choir, and vocalists Nickie Conley and Jason Eskridge.
Randall is regularly on the road with Slugs & Bugs, and the shows make for wonderful parent-kid dates. You can find all kinds of fun resources at Slugsandbugs.com.
Alathea: Songs for Children
Cristi Johnson and Mandee Radford have been making music since before they had kids. With songwriting abilities such as theirs, the temptation would seem to be to make the move to Nashville, but they’ve continued to hunker down in the northeast mountain corners of Tennessee, and their music reflects it. The instrumentation and production on Alathea’s Songs for Children: Sunnyside and Starlight is organic and roots-based, and the songwriting leaps from place to place with the guilelessness of a child’s imagination. The record is a double album, functioning around the same sort of light-and-dark motif as Ralph Stanley’s Saturday Night & Sunday Morning insofar as the first disc is songs for day and the second leans toward lullabies.
Listening through, one gets the feeling that these songs had their genesis in Mandee’s and Cristi’s kitchens and living rooms. Dobro and lap dulcimer walk alongside the guitars on the record, and the sound is reminiscent of the Appalachian hills whence it came. Traditionals and old hymns like “For the Beauty of the Earth” and the “Sunnyside Mountain Medley” are interspersed with songs like “Blueberry Jam” (a blues jam, of course) and “Last Piece of Bread,” a wonderful tune about the very old and often unwritten southern tradition that you don’t eat the last piece of food in the dish, just in case somebody else wants or needs it.
Mandee and Cristi also tour, often taking their own kids with them, leading camps and teaching their brand of song and their appreciation of traditional Appalachian music to children. More information can be found at alathea.com.
The great thing about these albums is that they’re endlessly listenable. You can be thirty-four—not to mention any names—and still sing along. Gone are the days when you wanted to claw out your frontal lobe just to remove “The Song That Never Ends” (which has now returned to you—you’re welcome). Children need good music just as much as their parents.
And now, because we’re a little mischievous and suffer from occasional irreverence, we’ll finish by daring you to follow this link to a little kids’ tune by songwriting giants Over the Rhine. If you’re a parent, you’ll understand.