Children’s music enters the next generation

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Gunnar Madsen, co-founder of the inventive a cappella group “The Bobs,” enriches the field of children’s music in a style uniquely his own.

Children’s CDs: Website addresses for two children’s CDs reviewed in Wednesday’s Calendar section were incorrect. Information for Gunnar Madsen’s “I’m Growing” is at Information for Debi Derryberry’s “Very Derryberry” is at —

His new album, “I’m Growing” (Gee, Spot! Records, $15. (800) 448-6369,, is his best to date, with off-the-wall lyrics -- “I love that lady with the pumpkin hair / She smells as sweet as butter” -- and expert, wildly varied vocal and instrumental textures.

Tender cowboy dreams (“Best in the West”), a tribute to librarians and a hilarious take on Mozart’s 40th Symphony give way to a tender finish: a lullaby with Harry Nilsson-like lilting harmonies and a soulful rendition of the traditional “Shenandoah.”

Other new music releases aimed at the younger set:

“Pop Fly”: Childhood observed with wit and empathy and one of the most mellow rock ‘n’ roll voices around: These are singer-songwriter Justin Roberts’ trademarks, and they shine in his new CD, “Pop Fly” (Carpet Square Records; $15,

Roberts weaves deft lyrics through layers of beautiful sound. In the title track, a reluctant outfielder plays baseball under “cotton candy clouds.” Other songs are about making memories at Grandma’s (“From Scratch”), “Big Field Trip” thrills and living life to the fullest in “Fruit Jar”:

“Sometimes you’ve just got to spin that old propeller / And watch it rise up way past the moon. . . .”

“The Magic Eye”: Imagine riding on a dinosaur, climbing the tallest mountain, being safe inside a circle of light -- or growing up to be an animal doctor or an artist. Grammy Award-winning songwriter Bunny Hull encourages children to use their “magic eye” to see worlds of opportunity and dreams in this installment of her “Young Masters” book-and-CD sets, “The Magic Eye,” from Dream a World ($13.95;

Hull’s heartfelt songs and text are complemented by Kye Fleming’s delicate computer-generated illustrations, narrator Elayn J. Taylor and flutist Diane Hsu.

“Very Derryberry”: With gentle humor, Debi Derryberry (the voice of TV’s “Jimmy Neutron”) takes a sunny, youthful pop and jazz approach to original and traditional story songs in her second children’s CD, Very Derryberry (VeryDerryBerryProductions, $14;

She revisits familiar nursery rhymes, counts ice cream scoops, explores opposites and feelings, relates the adventures of two remarkably freckled brothers and escorts listeners to a peaceful “Slumberland.”

“Dragonfly Races”: Internationally known folk singer-songwriter Ellis Paul makes a welcome foray into children’s music with his first family album, “Dragonfly Races” (Black Wolf Records, $15;

Paul brings acoustic soul and a light touch to road trips, human ingenuity and heart (“Because It’s There”), unity (“The Million Chameleon March”), racing dragonflies, pinwheels and a fairy-tale exposé about the true difference between heroes and monsters (“Abiola”).

“Music for a Green Planet”: Whoa, le jazz hot -- and very cool -- here. In his newest family album, “Music for a Green Planet” ($14.98,, East Coast-based jazz artist Hayes Greenfield (sax, clarinet, flute) performs surprisingly palatable “be-good-to-the-Earth” songs written with environmentalist Margo Schepart. He’s joined by other considerable talents, among them veteran vocalists Joe Lee Wilson, Miles Griffith, Broadway’s Shayna Steele and a host of notable jazz, rock and world music instrumentalists. The message extends to the CD’s green packaging.

“African Dreamland”: There’s always room for another soothing lullaby album, and “African Dreamland,” from Putumayo Kids ($14.98;, is a blissful quiet-time treat for any age.

A lovely addition to Putumayo’s cross-continental series of lullaby recordings, it features artists from across Africa, including the incomparable Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Toumani Diabaté, Samite, and Mapumba, a new artist from the Democratic Republic of Congo (and whew, what a voice).

“African Dreamland,”

“Rock of All Ages”: In his sixth family CD, “Rock of All Ages” ($12.99;, Atlanta’s John Boydston celebrates kids and classic rock with slick ‘60s pop references, entertaining lyrics with a froth of good-for-you messages and feel-good, sing-along bounce.

Sample highlights: “ ‘Round and ‘Round” with its dance-happy drive, and “I Lost My Teddy Bear,” a kid’s lament for the loss of childish things -- tinged with suspicions of parental involvement.

“Family Favorites”: Toddlers, preschoolers and kindergartners and their favorite adults can make music together old-school style with Music Together’s “Family Favorites” release ($14.95; 800-728-2692, Ext. 345,, with 19 songs. The group specializes in early childhood music development through catchy activity and singalong songs for playtime and quieter moments.

Top-notch arrangements are performed by appealing adult and child singers, and an accompanying 32-page booklet is filled with suggestions for enhanced participation.