Three Music Rough Guide CDs to what is principally/supposedly children's music are the main feature this time, but we will finish off with a "real" children's band, the Kerplunks from Canada.
The three Music Rough Guides, from the well known series, are "World Lullabies", "African Lullabies" and "World Playtime". I start with the negative - I have been disappointed about one aspect of all three CDs - the information in the booklet. I missed a bit more love and detail in putting these together - they feature hardly any information about and no translated lyrics of the songs. This makes it very difficult to appreciate whether and in how far the songs featured are originally childrens songs - and even less can the listener get an insight into how different cultures have different - or similar - kinds of childrens songs. So parents will also not be able to explain and bring these traditions closer to their children which is a real shame. The information in the booklet is, after a short generic introduction, principally about the artists themselves (a few songs get a sentence about their content).
So the music itself, starting with the Rough Guide to World Playtime. This is supposedly a collection of nursery rhymes and catchy playtime songs. I cannot validate whether the songs fit the bill; overall to my European ear the music on this CD sounds more like concert bands than children's music. I cannot say that my daughter was a big fan - she certainly did like some songs, but only as much as she might enjoy some songs on other (non-children) world music collections. Especially with this CD, I find that the choice of music feels very random - the music covers all continents, but I miss a flow in the album. Most people would find something they like on this album, but I am quite certain that most will also have a number of titles they would not like too much.
The Rough Guide to World Lullabies would be my pick of these three Rough Guides. This album provides, I find, an enjoyable mix of quiet songs (again I cannot be certain whether they all are actual lullabies but most sound like they could be). There is just one song which is the "odd one out" - No. 4 is a very lively Cajun song which, if you are trying to use this album to bring your child to sleep is a certain one to wake him/her up and jig around! Maybe the compiler wanted to make sure that listeners have not fallen asleep by that time? What I, as a fan of European music, like about this compilation is that it does not stop where many world music compilations come short of - it features a number of songs of Western traditions, including the last two Gaelic songs.
Finally, The Rough Guide to African lullabies is, by its nature, the most coherent of the three collections, and makes a very pleasant, calming and enjoyable album. What I can say about both of the Lullabies Rough Guides is that in my experience they do not do much to make your children sleepy (or even send them to sleep!). Probably with the albums featuring many different artists and styles, the music is too varied to be soothing to a child. It's still best to sing yourself the lullabies from your tradition to get your children off to sleep!
All three Rough Guide albums feature a bonus, which is a full length album of one artist featured on the compilation (well for World Lullabies the bonus CD band is not featured on the album). It may be seen as a nice touch, although I find this concept a bit odd. The choice of bonus CD feels a bit biased as for all three Rough Guides the bonus CD is from an African artist. For "World Playtime", it is Mory Kante with Griot traditions (kora and singing) with contemporary influences; "World Lullabies" features Black Umfolosi on the bonus CD with their soothing and gentle, a capella African chants (which fit well into the lullaby theme); and "African Lullabies" offers an instrumental bonus CD by Virginia Mukwesha featuring a suite on the Mbira - I have to admit that I could not listen to the whole album, not my cup of tea.
So moving on from the supposed children's music to a band who clearly state that they do children's music: the Canadian band The Kerplunks with their album "Number 3". Their songs are all written by the band, and it is fair to say that the music is orientated more toward older children. Overall, the album has a lot of energy, and gives plenty of opportunity to dance to. Stylistically, it goes a bit all over the place; Bluegrass is featuring strongly, but also Blues, Pop, Jazz and many other styles are in the mix. Some of the songs have very catchy tunes, and there are a lot of good ideas. The ideas of the songs have great potential. But I find that some of the songs' lyrics start off promising, but the songs don't take them anywhere - for example the song "ABCD" gets principally stuck with "ABCD" (only in the background appear further letters). Having said that, I trust that this could be a great live band for kids.
Photo Credits: (1)-(4) CD Covers (from website.)