various artists,
Sing Along with Putumayo
(Putumayo, 2004)

One of the first things that impressed me about Sing Along with Putumayo -- aside from the inclusion of such folk legends as Arlo Guthrie and Taj Mahal -- was that musically the album doesn't speak down to kids. There's some wonderful playing and singing on this disc. The banjo and fiddle arrangement on "Bananaphone" by Rhonda Vincent is a prime example, stylish and sophisticated without ever compromising the simplicity of the melody. As a parent who quietly suffered through the Barney phase of my daughter's life, I hope I never again have to be subjected to the saccharine, pandering musical presentations that too often pass for children's entertainment.

With only a couple of exceptions the musicians on Sing Along with Putumayo don't put on goofy "character-voices." They simply bring a child-like exuberance to catchy, often familiar tunes. Even a song that I don't particularly like, "You Are My Sunshine," is rendered not just palatable, but delicious, by the unforced, carefree delivery that Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Littleton bring to their contribution to this collection.

In addition to the aforementioned "Bananaphone," the best tracks here include Tim O'Brien's "Man Gave Names to All the Animals" with its infectious interplay between mandolin and guitar, Eric Bibb's quietly impassioned reading of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," and "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" by the incomparable Rufus Thomas. Thomas's raucous vocal lifts this tediously familiar tune to pyrotechnic, show-stopping heights. Who knew Old MacDonald had a horn section hiding in that overcrowded barn?

The singers featured on Sing Along with Putumayo are among that group of special individuals who manage to grow up without losing sight of the child within. And more importantly, they can call up that child and remind us all that we too have a youngster hiding deep inside.

As for this album's prime audience -- who have not yet had time to submerge their childishness under layers of adult, or even adolescent, concerns -- this disc offers a superb mix of kid-friendly music and refined musicality. It's a wonderful combination that lives up to the uncompromising standards that I've come to associate with the Putumayo label.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 25 September 2004

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