As any parent of a young child (or, God forbid, multiple young children) can tell you between exhausted sobbing fits, the kids are the bosses of the house. It’s a dirty secret that “grown-up” artists like They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies have just started figuring out — no doubt partly thanks to having kids of their own — but the brave men and women who have committed their careers to making music for tots have known it for years; in fact, they rely on it to make a living. Take that little jerk Raffi, for instance — how many dads, do you think, fantasized about knocking his teeth out the first time they heard “Baby Beluga”? But they couldn’t, because kids looooooooove Raffi.
Yes, children are tyrants, and once they latch onto a television show, movie, or piece of music, Mom and Dad are going to listen to it repeatedly, whether they like it or not. Of course, getting the tykes to do the latching requires a certain level of commitment on the performer’s part — he or she may need to climb into a purple dinosaur suit, or introduce himself at cocktail parties as “the yellow Wiggle.” Or, in Debbie Cavalier’s case, strap on a phony Southern accent and pretend to talk to a horse. (This isn’t anything Toby Keith doesn’t do on any given afternoon, but still: commitment.)
Cavalier’s debut CD, Story Songs and Sing Alongs, comes 20 years into a distinguished career that has included over 100 music education method books and arrangements — not to mention a long-running association with her alma mater, the Berklee College of Music, where she currently serves as the Dean of Continuing Education. She may look like a cartoon on the cover of the album, but she clearly isn’t fooling around; each of these songs boasts full-bodied arrangements and a large backing band, and Story Songs‘ press kit claims it’ll be “a toss-up as to who will shout ‘AGAIN!’ the loudest: you or your child.”
Truthfully, Debbie will probably come up snake eyes on that roll in your household, but Story Songs and Sing Alongs is a children’s album definitely not lacking in charm. It falls squarely on the cutesy-poo end of the spectrum, and you will almost definitely catch yourself doing some eye-rolling at certain points (such as the aforementioned pretend-horse-talking), but this album hasn’t won a slew of honors (including the 2008 iParenting Media Award and Parents’ Choice Approved Award) for nothing; Cavalier covers a broad range of topics, framing them within the fairytales kids everywhere know and love, and wraps everything in slick, sitcom-theme-ready performances and production. The album’s sort of a throwback to the days when “children’s music” was synonymous with “pandering,” but it isn’t so saccharine enough to keep you from singing along — and by the end, when she pulls out all the stops for “Love Is a Family,” including an out-of-nowhere rock guitar solo and an over-emoting choir, you will know what it means to drown in cheese and love it.
Perhaps the album’s ultimate endorsement comes from Bob McGrath of Sesame Street, who says “I wish someone had written songs like this when I was a kid!” Of course, when Bob was a kid, minstrels were lugging lutes and harpsichords between feudal villages, but his point is well-taken — my daughter sat rapt in front of the stereo for a good half hour while Story Songs and Sing Alongs played, studiously perusing the booklet (even though she can’t read). It’s smartly written, it’s fun, and it’s miles better than stupid old Raffi. You may not love it like your little ones, but the smiles on their faces (particularly when songs like “I’m Not Tired” come on) should more than make up for it.