Raffi's Box of Sunshine
(Rounder, 2000)

Canadian children's singer Raffi has packed this sunny yellow box with three of his well-loved recordings: Rise and Shine, One Light, One Sun and Everything Grows.

Each CD is a wealth of the combination of folk and original songs for which Raffi is well known. Backed by a stellar complement of musicians on each CD, Raffi's singing is warm, friendly and reassuringly gentle. It's music that appeals to children but does not condescend, music that is comforting and familiar but also challenges and stretches young listeners.

Some of it is silly, some is sweet while other tracks will have everyone on their feet and dancing. Much of Raffi's original music celebrates the simple joys in life while promoting respect for other people and for the planet. The message comes across without bludgeoning the listener with a didactic lesson.

Rise and Shine begins with the title track, composed by Raffi. It has a hymn-like simplicity that invites you to sing along. After that, there's no real theme to the tracks which include children's favorites such as "Five Little Ducks" and "Wheels on the Bus," and spirituals and traditionals such as "Daniel [in the lion's den]," "He's Got the Whole World" and "This Little Light of Mine." There are silly songs such as "Something in My Shoe," which includes fun sound effects, "Ducks Like Rain," which has an uncanny way of sticking in your brain and causing you to sing aloud "Ducks go splishing-splashing in the rain" at unexpected moments, or "Let's Do the Numbers Rumba" (likewise). Two of the songs are in French: "Michaud," about a boy who has recurring bad luck with fruit trees and "Tete, Epaules..." which will be instantly recognizable as "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," Original songs include "Big Beautiful Planet" and "I'm in the Mood." The latter song is especially appealing to young children with its repetitive lyrics and catchy refrain.

One Light, One Sun closes with the title track, but before you get there, there's a lovely blend of songs old and new, traditional and contemporary, kicking off with "Time to Sing," an original song that is a great opener for any activity. Raffi includes the quirky but fun "Octopus's Garden" as well as the all-American "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Raffi explores another favorite American pastime in "The Bowling Song," goes "Riding in an Airplane" and finds out what's "Down on Grandpa's Farm." The charming French lullaby "Fais Dodo" and the lovely Spanish song "De Colores" add a multicultural touch, as do the steel drums in "Tingalayo" and the account of universal similarities in "Like Me and You."

The third CD, Everything Grows, starts off with a paean to "Bathtime," which makes taking a bath enormously appealing. "Brown Girl in the Ring" is a traditional song which is not well known in some communities; here, Raffi makes an invaluable cross-cultural introduction. Other highlights include "Let's make Some Noise," which has a lively beat, the sweet title track "Everything Grows" and the melodramatic "Eight Piggies in a Row."

Raffi's music stands up well to the repeat button in a CD player, although excessive exposure to any one album can be wearing. Fortunately, with Raffi's Box of Sunshine, you have a choice of 48 songs, and that's a sunny proposition indeed!

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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