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February 2011

CD Reviews

New and Recent Releases

By Jason Byrd

Putamayo Kids Presents - “Rock & Roll Playground”
Released 6/29/2010

The songs on this rollicking collection are drawn from previously released recordings by children's artists, such as Bill Harley, Dan Zanes and Roger Day and by rock, rockabilly/country, and blues artists, like Peter Himmelman, Rosie Flores & the Pine Valley Cosmonauts and Taj Mahal. Half of the songs on this release are rooted in the classic rock and roll of the 1950s and 1960s, beginning with Bill Harley’s “Sleep the Whole Day Through,” which is a ‘50s rockabilly romp complete with blazing saxophone. Many of the tunes are original, though there are a number of nicely done cover songs, including “Willie and the Hand Jive” by Taj Mahal and Linda Tillery. Charity and the JAMband’s funky version of “Row Row Row Your Boat” is a lively take on a folk classic. Uncle Rock performs a faithful but toned-down rendition of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” “Oh Susanna,” performed by Rhythm Child, is given a fun, boogie rock (to my ears) treatment ala Littlefeat. On the final track, Roger Day’s “Dream Big!” brings us up to date with his brand of contemporary kid pop. Treat yourself to a hardcopy of the CD and enjoy a colorfully illustrated booklet that includes corresponding notes for each song arranged in storybook fashion.

Caspar Babypants - “This Is Fun!”
Released 11/02/2010

The third CD by Caspar Babypants (Chris Ballew and company) is full of clever and funny songs that will appeal both to toddlers and parents who are fans of melodic pop. Ballew, who is also a member of the alternative rock band, The Presidents of the United States, brings his talent for writing catchy rock songs to children’s music — and with as much success. Ballew’s three-string guitar provides excellent rhythm and leaves space for the vocals and other instruments to be heard more clearly. His voice is perfectly suited for these songs, which range from delicate to soaring. Each of the 20 songs is quite enjoyable, but there are some standout tracks. “Speedy Centipede” is a quirky song that reminds me of “Smile”-era Beach Boys. Other favorites are “Bounce Your Baby” and “Tumble.” With a few exceptions, Ballew wrote all of the original songs on “This Is Fun!,” though, as with a lot of children’s music CDs, there are some traditional or Public Domain songs. Of the one’s he chose, Ballew’s takes on “Shoo Fly” and “The Cuckoo” are the most refreshing. Perhaps the most surprising success is Ballew’s version of the Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) song “Sliver.” There are also duets with fellow children’s music artists Charlie Hope (on “Mister Rabbit”) and Elizabeth Mitchell (on “Dark of Night”). All in all, I highly recommend “This Is Fun!” But don’t take my word for it. Check out the entire album online (for now, at least) and decide for yourself.

Jason Byrd is a musician and writer. He lives in Maryland with his wife and two young daughters. For more information, visit