Every coin has two sides (unless it's made of chocolate but even then it still does). Children's music has always had two sides as well. There's the "music as music" side, which is evident in every single song. But there's also the "message" side. Sometimes it's obvious by the title (i.e., "Fruits or Vegetables") and sometimes it's implied ("My Glasses").
Two recent children's music CDs show that you can mix-and-match both sides of this coin. Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam have released EVERYONE'S INVITED. Jon Samson dropped his latest CD, A NEW KIDS ALBUM.
Background and intentions make up each side of the equation. In Samson's case, he's s board-certified music therapist (and self-proclaimed professional goofball) who uses his music as his mission. In Didner's case, he's been around "adult" music for many years and it was the birth of his daughter that inspired him to enter the kindie scene.
Both take some liberties with classics to get across their points. Samson changes the tempo on "Mockingbird (Something to Say)" and makes it a pure little kids tune. In stark contract, Didner's troop rocks out "Down By the Bay" as if was always a natural jam band number.
But the differences are clear – Samson is using his music to educate, promote positive values, and deliver an inclusive environment for kids on the autistic spectrum. Didner's more general feel-good vibe delivers some more commonplace by-the-numbers lessons.
it also pays to have friends in the industry. Samson's disk is packed with familiar names to the kindie community, from They Might Be Giants' drummer Marty Beller to Lunch Money's Molly Ledford, Joanie Leeds, Vered, and a veritable platoon of kids' chorus members. Didner's emphatically more "DIY" approach is lucky to encompass his family and friends.
Samson's smooth vocals and great production values shine on anthems like "Show More Love," the clear centerpiece of the CD. Of course, it's immediately followed with the similarly soaring "Music Is Like Oxygen," which almost defeats the purpose. But you can't fault a guy who knows the limitations of his audience. As a parent of a spectrum child, I can attest to the benefits of "Silence Is All the Music I Need."
I'm not trying to sell you stories,
Pretend that I'm not here.
And you can throw them out or keep them
(I sure hope you keep them).
Only if you believe.
A NEW KIDS ALBUM will mellow out a long car ride or provide some food for thought for your youngsters. EVERYONE'S INVITED demands a living room with space to jump up and down while singing along.
Didner honed his kindie credentials playing at New Jersey public libraries, the Turtle Back Zoo (oh I haven't been there in more than 40 years), school functions, and numerous outdoor festivals. He's got a three year old, I've got a three year old. So I know where he's coming from – get those kids involved, get them dancing, get them singing. Show them how to enjoy music and then work in a little education in the process. Like I said, the other side of the coin.
"Jungle Gym Jamming" is a kindie Ramones tune (more understandable lyrics, natch). "Five Sea Lions" is an alternative Jimmy Buffet-esque take on "Five Little Ducks." The band's "The People Exhibit at the Zoo" goes through the looking glass as the animals become people-watchers:
They certainly are a noisy bunch
You can hear them at the snack bar all through lunch
They chatter and chew and crunch at the same time.
Ultimately, Samson and Didner are aiming for similar audiences. They may be on opposite sides of the coin, but it's the same coin. And you can bet dollars to donuts that younger kids (3-7) will be entertained by both disks.
A NEW KIDS ALBUM is available from Jon Samson's website, Bandcamp, and iTunes (soon).
EVERYONE'S INVITED is available from Jason's Jungle Gym Jam website, iTunes, and CDBABY.
Here's the video from Jungle Gym Jam for "You're A Grand Old Flag":