various artists,
Daddy-O Daddy! --
Rare Family Songs
of Woody Guthrie

(Rounder, 2001)

Woody Guthrie had a deep love for his children, and given his musical talents, it's not surprising that he wrote more songs than we could ever imagine for them. As a mother myself, I remember putting nonsense words to sing-song tunes to entertain my children, even up till last year when I made up "My Apartment Just Burned Down Blues" for my 21-year old, in an effort to cheer her up. But this collection is not just Woody Guthrie, it's Woody Guthrie performed by some truly remarkable musicians who lend an adult sensibility to these children's songs.

Six tunes included here have never been released or recorded and, in some cases, weren't even finished prior to this project. Some of these songs were on reel-to-reel tapes that Woody used to capture his ideas back in 1951-52. In an effort to preserve these treasures, Frankie Fuchs worked with Nora Guthrie, the Woody Guthrie Archive in New York City, Bill Nowlin and Rounder Records, and Judy Bell of TRO music publishing, as well as musicians Billy Bragg & the Blokes, Cissy Houston, Kim Wilson, Joe Ely & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Syd Straw, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and Taj Mahal.

Thanks to the talents of these musicians, the CD has a variety of musical styles, all of which are guaranteed to excite children and entertain adults -- which is a difficult feat for a children's project. As long as you're not a purist when it comes to nonsense words, baby talk and bad grammar, the style of these songs will appeal to even the most critical listener.

To be sure, there are plenty of phrases like "zoop zoop zoopity zoop, like a horsie drinks," and "tooky, tooky, tooky, tooky ti-dal-o." But we could all use a healthy dose of silliness once in a while. And it's hard to imagine creating something exciting from "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8" outside of Sesame Street, but amazingly, Guthrie did just that long before Bert and Ernie hit the airwaves.

Billy Bragg & The Blokes provide an Afro-pop flavor to "Dry Bed" and "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8." Cissy Houston does "Little Seed" and "Sleep Eye" with a Cajon beat. R&B is represented in two selections performed by Kim Wilson, "New Baby Train" and "Bigger," the latter of which includes instrumentation that is almost too sophisticated and mature for children. Ramblin' Jack Elliott performs a mean bluegrass harp in songs like "I'll Write and I'll Draw" and "Curly Headed Baby." Taj Mahal gives us reggae renditions of "Don't You Push Me Down" and "Little Sack of Sugar." Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely do justice to "Tippy Tap Toe" and "Want to See Me Grow." And Syd Straw sings the popular "My Daddy (Flies That Ship in the Sky)."

But this is my opinion, and I'm an adult. I put this to the true test -- my best friend's grandchildren, the toughest critics I know. Right away, several songs became their favorites, most importantly, "I waked up in a dry bed, Mommy." If that isn't incentive enough for a parent to buy this recording, I don't know what is!

[ by Alanna Berger ]
Rambles: 4 May 2002

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