Music News

Various Artists, Dan Zanes and Friends, Tom Paxton

It was bound to happen. One by one, all of your hipster friends started breeding like rabbits. Suddenly they traded in their Dickies and Doc Martens for onesies and booties, and showed up at parties with sippy cups instead of six-packs. Then, as their little replications began to walk and talk, your pals asked you to baby-sit, and now you're stuck trying to find some children's music that will look cool next to the latest discs from the Hives and Neko Case.

Offering cooler-than-thou kiddiecore, Bloodshot Records leads the pack with The Bottle Let Me Down, a lively collection that brings out the best in urban hicks such as Freakwater, Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops, and the Waco Brothers. Merging bluegrass, rockabilly and folk with a playful modern vibe, the "insurgent country" crowd drops some of its 'tude to get loose and lighthearted for the little people. High marks go to Austin old-timer Cornell Hurd for his hilarious original, "Don't Wipe Your Face on Your Shirt," to Carolyn Mark for cracking up during her version of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," and to Kelly Hogan for a highly dramatic reading of the spooky "Señor el Gato."

Like the Bloodshot bands, '80s roots-rock veteran Dan Zanes (ex-Del Fuegos) puts a new spin on old tunes for his second set of kiddie songs, Family Dance. Zanes' approach is goofier and looser than the cow-punk contingent, possibly because he's abetted by a slightly older ensemble, including Loudon Wainwright III, Rosanne Cash and Sandra Bernhard, who duets with Zanes on "Thrift Shop," a tune extolling the virtues of living stylishly for cheap.

The only problem with both albums is that some selections seem too musically sophisticated or concept-heavy — made for grown-ups more than kids. The worst example is Robbie Fulks's "Godfrey" (on Bottle Let Me Down), a belabored, overly adult song that feels mean-spirited and self-indulgent.

Perhaps, then, the much-reviled hippie generation can teach us a thing or two about crafting children's music that's cute but not cloying. As the '70s counterculture succumbed to the urge to procreate, many an anti-nuclear family found itself searching for something a little less square than the "Polly Wolly Doodles" of day care. Folk legend Tom Paxton has been mining this vein for a while now, and his most recent album of children's songs, Your Shoes, My Shoes, reveals a master at work. Tunes such as "My Giraffe," "The Pizza That Ate Chicago," and the macabre "The Worms Come Crawling Underground" all have the right mix of silly, playful and clever. It's easy to imagine kids singing these numbers in the back seat of the car, in the supermarket, or even at naptime, when they look up at you with those big, round eyes, pleading to hear them just one more time.

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Lawerence Kay