Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Not The Target Demographic, Not Impressed With Stories & Songs For Little Children By Pete Seeger.

The Good: Good multicultural aspects, Decent tunes, Good vocals
The Bad: SHORT, Limited
The Basics: While there are a few interesting stories, Stories & Songs For Little Children is one of Pete Seeger's overall weaker albums with low repeatability or distinctiveness.

Right off the bat, I'll admit that I am not the target audience for Pete Seeger's album Stories & Songs For Little Children. I do not have children, I don't like children; I don't even have any young relatives. I am blissfully child-free and as a result, it might seem odd that I would pick up and evaluate Stories & Songs For Little Children. The reason for my picking up this album is easy-enough to explain: Pete Seeger is my Artist Of The Month. When I explore an artist, I try to explore all of the works of theirs that I am able to get my hands on. In the case of Pete Seeger, my local library had this album and I was able to get it in and it is all I've been listening to for two days.

I'm pretty much done with that. Stories & Songs For Little Children is a mildly entertaining children's album which suffers mightily from low repeatability given how much space on the disc is comprised of stories in proportion to the duration of the album. I understand that repeatability is high among children ages two to twelve, but there are limits to that and some of the longer tracks - which are the best - unfortunately are essentially longer stories and hold up poorly because even children will get them pretty quickly given how much repetition there is within the songs themselves. As a result, it is pretty mindnumbing to listen to "Foolish Frog" and "Abiyoyo" on high replay without asking oneself why they are doing this. Given how none of this album is actually written by Pete Seeger, it is a question I find myself asking this very minute.

With only nine songs clocking out at 36:40, Stories & Songs For Little Children is very much not the original work of Pete Seeger. Seeger did not write any of the songs, which are made up largely of traditional songs like "Skip To My Lou," "She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain," and "I Know An Old Lady," though he sings them all on his own. As well, he accompanies himself on all of the songs on his banjo. But Seeger mixes it up only with a few storysongs, like "Abiyoyo," and there is nothing especially superlative about the album.

Pete Seeger does have a nice voice, which he displays on the songs on this album. He is energetic on "Frog Went A-Courting" and he opens the album with a sense of being a benevolent, wisdom-bearing grandfather on "Skip To My Lou," when he explains how music is passed from person to person. Seeger has a beautiful tenor voice and he is perfectly articulate throughout the album. There is not a single line which cannot be easily understood by Seeger's vocals on Stories & Songs For Little Children.

However, there are a few moments that drag because of how he presents his smooth, easy vocals. When he opens "Frog Went A-Courting" with singalong directions, the flow is disrupted. The extended version of "She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain" is similarly annoying with all of the sound effects Seeger performs. This is not because the noises are problematically audible, but rather because they are repetitive, weird and on the recording they lack the energy that a live performance might have had. In other words, this is not the right medium for some of the performances and while the ideal (seeing Seeger live performing for children) might not be practical, it lessens things like the sense of weirdness that the flat recording of sound effects have.

Seeger's banjo playing is flawless on Stories & Songs For Little Children and on this album, Seeger presents himself as a musical purist. Outside the interjection of stories and observations to his songs, Seeger is straightforward with his presentations. As a result, Seeger's banjo playing is very much by the numbers, there are no improvisations, no variations and nothing that makes this children's album more distinctive than any of a hundred other children's albums on the market.

The value for the album comes in the minor educational value of some of the songs. "Raccoon's Got A Bushy Tail" helps educate children to differences in animals (or at least how to recognize one) and "Foolish Frog" has a decent moral about overconfidence. As well, Seeger promotes his usual progressive social agenda by presenting "Abiyoyo," a lullaby story which is from old Europe. That sense of multicultural storytelling which helps spread and enhance the collective unconscious from places other than the United States of America is valuable and one that children growing up nowadays will appreciate.

But the use of traditional songs like "Skip To My Lou" and "I Know An Old Lady" dominate the album with their simple tunes and the fact that Seeger does not present them with anything to make them distinctive or his makes Stories & Songs For Little Children a tough sell. Given how many of Seeger's songs have simple melodies anyway, I'd argue that parents who want their children listening to folk music would do better by simply picking up some of Seeger's other albums which have some of these songs on them anyway; that way they have something to grow up with as opposed to set aside when they get tired of it.

"Foolish Frog" got stuck in my head pretty easily, but "Mister Rabbit" was utterly forgettable.

For other Pete Seeger albums, please check out my reviews of:
American Industrial Ballads
We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert June 8, 1963
God Bless The Grass
The Best Of Pete Seeger (Vanguard)


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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