Phil Rosenthal & Family,
Folk Song Lullabies
(American Melody, 2001)

The title song and introduction, "Folk Song Lullabies," made me fear that this would be that dreadful creation, an album for children that won't let them forget they're children. The "Lullaby Medley" soon put my fears to rest. "Medley," like the other instrumentals on the album, gives a surprisingly sophisticated treatment to songs too often simplified. "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" sounds positively classic. My one complaint is that, thanks to the instrumental nature of the piece, I still don't know the words to "Go Tell Aunt Rhody."

Later instrumentals don't have the same instant recognition factor. I do wonder if children would be interested enough by an unfamiliar tune to settle down and pay attention. "Monhegan" is very pretty and "Evening Song" quite atmospheric, but neither is exactly captivating. These songs are too focused on the "soothing" aspect of lullabies to provide much interest for an easily distracted mind. "Mandolin Dreams," the standout among the instrumentals, is lively enough to be interesting without being too invigorating. "Over the Waterfall" has a pleasant country feel to it, and goes on long enough to lose a listener in its melody. There's enough variation in the instrumentals to keep adults from going insane on the 60th listen, even if the kids tune them out.

For children who can't be captivated by instrumentals, there's a good variety of sing-along tunes, both traditional and new. "The Riddle Song," always one of my favorites, is sung by Beth Sommers Rosenthal in a sweet low key. I don't know why she reopens the riddle by repeating the first verse at the end, since this is a song that begs to be closed cycle. The poetic lyrics of "Lullaby" give childish listeners credit for more intelligence than usual.

"Go To Bed" made me laugh with its parents' plea. I was very happy to have "Hush Little Baby," with its entertaining series of linked gifts, presented in its entirety -- and sung clearly enough to remember! "Golden Slumbers" was disappointing only because Naomi Summers Rosenthal's sweet voice was somewhat overwhelmed by the instruments. Her voice is shown to more advantage in "Sleep Song/Home Song." All the singers use a simple, understated vocal style perfect for lullabies. There are no attempts at divahood to interfere with the lyrics or tune, and the songs stand out more because of it. Even the oddly chosen "Down in the Valley" (does no one remember that this is a song about murder and capital punishment?) is saved from its usual gloomy tone by the gentle treatment it's given.

The album ends with a reprise of the weak title song. It makes the ending of the album too pronounced; I really don't know why Phil Rosenthal felt the need to saddle this collection with an introduction and ending when it speaks so well for itself. One distracting song is still a small price to pay for a children's album that respects its listeners and can be replayed without driving parents insane. If you have children, give your own voice a break and put on Folk Song Lullabies some evening. If you don't have kids, there's no law saying adults don't need lullabies too. This is a fine place to hear them.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 11 October 2002

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