Tag Archives: Pete Seeger

A Conversation with Ella Jenkins

Ella Jenkins is called the first lady of children’s music, and for good reason — she is a Lifetime Grammy Achievement Award winner who has been recording for over 50 years, and with her new album, A Life of Song, she’s still going strong. I was thrilled and honored to spend some time with her on the phone recently, talking about her amazing life and career.

So let’s talk about A Life of Song. You’ve certainly lived one.

Well, I’ll tell you. I liked to sing when I was a small child. Not that my mother or father sang, but my uncle introduced me to music, as well as my first instrument, which was the harmonica. I really enjoyed that. I’m not a formal musician, I’ve just always done it by ear, and that’s how I share it with people today. I would still encourage anyone to train formally, but you don’t have to — just by singing, or even through exposure to music, you’re part of it. Often that’s what children do — they listen to music and then take parts of what they hear to make their own. I’ve always hummed or whistled or something. You don’t need an instrument or a band — birds sing all the time. Continue reading

CD Review: Professor Banjo, “Old Time, Good Time!”

While I sort of doubt he has an actual degree in banjology, you’ve got to hand it to Professor Banjo for truth in advertising. His 16-track Old Time, Good Time! delivers exactly what you’d expect: a guy, a banjo, and plenty of old-timey songs, like “Shortnin’ Bread,” “Jordan Is a Hard Road to Travel” (weirdly shortened here to “Jerdin,” but whatever), and “All the Pretty Little Horses.”

The packaging is also every bit as basic (and basically awesome) as the musical contents — the disc comes in a black-and-white cardboard case that says COLOR ME! on the cover, a winking nod to the days when these songs were originally popular, a time when families would sit around their parlors and sing the hits of the day themselves rather than streaming them to their AirPlay-enabled devices. (Of course, the album is also available as an MP3 download, but you get the point.)

The Professor (a.k.a. Paul Silveria) won’t win any awards for his vocals, but that’s part of Old Time‘s charm — this is one-take, rough-hewn stuff, meant for clapping and singing along to, beautiful in its stark, uncommon simplicity. If your kids love Pete Seeger (and if they don’t, you aren’t doing your job), here’s another perfect addition to the family music library.

CD Review: Various Artists, “Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti”

You wouldn’t be visiting Dadnabbit if you weren’t looking for quality entertainment that your whole family can enjoy.

What if you could have it — lots of it — and support a worthy cause in the bargain?

That’s the idea behind Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti, the debut offering from Bill Childs‘ Spare the Rock Records, and it works splendidly. The track listing boasts a virtual Who’s Who of the best and brightest in kindie, including Recess Monkey, Elizabeth Mitchell, Gustafer Yellowgold, Dan Zanes, and Uncle Rock — and almost all of the songs are previously unreleased. The set was produced by Dean Jones of Dog on Fleas, who helped round up the artists (including Pete Seeger, recorded in a single take in his living room) and contributed a pair of tracks (Dog on Fleas’ lovely “Sing About the Sun” and the quirky, irresistible Jones solo cut “Little by Little”).

If you’re familiar with Bill’s work, or any of the artists I named above, you know what to expect from Many Hands — it includes its share of boisterous, candy-colored tracks (like They Might Be Giants’ “My Name Is Kingof Socks”), but this crew is fighting the good fight; where they go, smart, honest kids’ music is sure to follow, and most of it is stripped down to its bare essentials. There’s no artifice here, no pandering to children, no teeth-grindingly cute arrangements or lyrics. Just family entertainment, in the truest sense — beautifully recorded by a family of artists, to benefit families half a world away.

More about that worthy cause: Proceeds from Many Hands go to the Haitian People’s Support Project, where they’re working hard to repair the devastation of the January earthquake. It’s a crisis too great for one charity — or one great CD — to solve, but you can help by picking up a copy of the album and explaining the story behind it to your kids. And if you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance, you can attend one of the Many Hands concerts scheduled for the fall.

(While it wasn’t an official Many Hands show, Dadnabbit was lucky enough to play a part in bringing Dog on Fleas to our rural corner of New Hampshire recently. Pictures here.)

The more time I spend with kids’ entertainment, the less patience I have for movies or music that waste energy condescending to their audience. Kids are just like us — they respond to things that make them feel, that treat them with respect, and that trust their intelligence. The artists who contributed their time and talent to this project understand this, and that’s what makes it such a beautiful, valuable listen. If you buy only one CD for your family this year, make it Many Hands.