DAN ZANES & FRIENDS, Lead Belly, Baby!
Smithsonian Folkways recordings brings to us this fall Grammy-winning children’s artist Dan Zanes (accompanied by a few of his notable friends!) covering 15 songs by the legendary blues musician Lead Belly. Lead Belly, also known as Huddle William Ledbetter, was a 12 string guitar virtuoso and notable vocalist with a wide range of themes in his songs. Best known for folk standards, gospel, and blues songs about women, prison life, cowboys, cattle herding, racism, and politics, Lead Belly doesn’t initially come off as a personality that is suited for young ears! But, Lead Belly’s themes do resonate with the today’s politically charged climate, and his cultural importance and influence on the American music scene cannot be overstated. This is the impetus for Smithsonian Folkways to produce another album that introduces Lead Belly to the younger set. Yes, you read that right, I said another! In 1999, Smithsonian Folkways released Lead Belly Sings for Children which pulled together classic, original Lead Belly recordings that were kid-friendly. In this new release, Dan Zanes and co. rerecord and interpret some of Lead Belly’s archetypal songs so his audience can see these songs through a new lens. I dare say, it is worth checking out both albums and letting your kids hear the original songs as well as the modern day interpretations. And there are some pretty interesting covers on Lead Belly, Baby! Billy Bragg (who seems like an obvious fit to cover Lead Belly with his own background in folk, punk, protest rock) and Dan Zanes record a catchy version of Rock Island Line with a fuller, fleshed out sound than the simpler, spare original (as a child of the 80s, I do loves me some Billy Bragg). Tamar Kali joins Dan Zanes on a happy, upbeat cover of Ha-Ha This-A-Way, making some lyrics sweeter than Lead Belly’s (Tamar Kali sings “…know my Papa loved me,” swapping out the harsher original lyric “… know my Papa left me”). Another notable cover is Take This Hammer, which features a duet with Dan Zanes and Valerie June. Their combined sound highlights the Louisiana Delta blues sound and mixes it with dixie-land jazz horn rhythms. The album is accompanied by a 40 page booklet that shows pictures of Lead Belly through the years, the current artists featured in the tribute collaboration, and interesting accedes about each song included in the album. Lead Belly, Baby! is an interesting introduction and excellent springboard to exploring the complex and significant person that was Lead Belly.
On September 15th, an award winning book and accompanying CD, Sing To Your Baby was translated and published in Spanish! The original book, crafted in English, was created to encourage new parents to share their love of music with their newborns and in doing so, prompting the development of communication and pre-literacy skills. Here at ETM, we are strong proponents of multilingualism in the home and know first hand the benefits that can be reaped from exposing children to multiple languages. Exposing language through song is a gentle entry point and a meaningful opportunity to bond with your little ones. In Cantale A Tu Bebé, all of the original songs, authored by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer have been translated into Spanish and meant to be used on a daily basis with your kids. In this version, there is the additional benefit of having all the songs recorded twice. One version of the 11 songs is recorded by native Spanish speaker and vocalist Sonia De Los Santos and meant to be sung by someone with a voice in a higher register. The second version of the 11 original songs is sung by native Spanish speaker and vocalist Jorge Anaya and meant to guide a parent or caregiver who sings in a lower vocal register. So, no excuses, everyone can participate in singing with baby! Singing is literally child’s play! The album’s accompanying book not only gives parents the lyrics and illustrations to look at with their little ones, but also has a guide to help use the songs to develop baby’s learning ability and aid in their developmental transitions. This makes for a perfect baby gift for language loving citizens of the world! Cantale A Tu Bebé and Sing to Your Baby are both available online, through libraries, and via distributor Baker & Taylor.
Listen to NPR’s piece on Sing To Your Baby
Speaking of singing to your baby, Grammy nominated Lisa Loeb has a new album of lullabies for the little ones. However, this is not an album of the traditional lullabies, nor is it an album of original compositions (though it does have two of Loeb’s own originals). This album contains 13 re-interpretations of classic songs from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Songs like Be My Baby, Dream a Little Dream, Rainbow Connection, and Don’t Stop are carefully re-worked and crafted into the mellowest, dreamiest versions of themselves urging both kids and adults alike to slow it all down and relax. Lisa Loeb’s original song Close Your Eyes is among the stand out tracks on the album, its sweet lyrics and vocals accompanied by delicate instrumental arrangements fits in perfectly with the surrounding cover songs and makes a seamless transition into a cover of Dream a Little Dream. O-O-H Child is a notable cover song that hones in on the message of hope and looking forward despite today’s troubles. Perhaps a little melancholic for a lullaby, but the truth is, not all days are easy for kids and parents alike and it is comforting to think of this song waiting for you at the end of a rough day. So, kick back, put on those jammies, get comfy and listen to some lullabies! Lullaby Girl releases on October 6, 2017 when it will be available for purchase and streaming exclusively on Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Music.
Founded in the early 1960s by a South African teenage farm boy named Joseph Shabalala, Ladysmith Black Mambazo rose to become one of South Africa’s preeminent singing groups. Ladysmith Black Mambazo sings using a traditional style of music called Isicathamiya, a tradition that emerged out of a combination of influences such as minstrel songs and the music of the Zulus. The band has a history of spreading their message of peace and love through their performances. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he spoke of the hope and power the group’s message had for him while he listened to their music in jail. When Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, the band accompanied him to Oslo and sang at the ceremony. So, it is no surprise that their newest album should focus on the themes of peace and love, aiming its message to children and parents of the world. Group member Albert Mazibuko says of their album’s message, “We want parents to have a collection of songs to listen to with their kids, songs that hold important messages. We know, first hand, how hard it is to raise children in a world of conflict, in a world where children need positive role models and positive words. We hope our songs can be an important part of the lessons of peace and love that all parents want to impart to their children.” The album’s timing could not be better, who couldn’t use a little more positivity and understanding. Its message is also not without humor. Its first track Everything’s So Stupid speaks to how parents often judge and do not listen to their children, always asking “What are you doing and why?” and then, to confuse matters further, when the children are quiet, adults ask, “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” Yes, they too recognize that sometimes there is no winning! The third track, Different Colors is Nothing to Me, is song that delves into acceptance and unity. The proverbial cherry on top of this beautiful album is a re-recording of Long Walk to Freedom (a tribute song to Nelson Mandela). Treat your ears to exquisite harmonies and your mind to messages of positivity. Who couldn’t use a little more of that these days? Ladysmith Black Mambazo will be touring the US from January-April 2018.