Reviewed by Gregory Keer
Everyone wants their information fast and to-the-point, so I’m going to file all my entertainment reviews under the FMR: Children’s Music Reviews heading for the fordseeable future. This month, I must begin with the release of The Magic School Bus: The Complete Series. While episodes still air on TV following its original 1990s run on PBS, this package of 8 DVDs is as worth owning as the Schoolhouse Rock series in the way that both are highly fun to watch while they educate. The Emmy-winning show is about an eccentric teacher (Ms. Frizzle, voiced by Lily Tomlin) who takes her students in the ever-morphing school bus on scientific field trips over land, in the sea, in space, and even inside the human body. My seven-year-old can’t stop watching and even my teenager had a viewing party with his buddies. An activity book and parent’s guide adds to the value of this edutainment powerhouse.
Toggling over to the music side, I’m particularly pumped about Ozomatli Presents Ozokids, the first child-oriented album from L.A.’s brilliant multicultural group, Ozomatli. Heavy on informative lyrics, liberal with the rhythm, and diverse in its musical styles, Ozokids offers everything from the hip-hop Latin sound of “Moose on the Loose” and the reggae-infused “Germs” to ’80s-style funk of “It’s Your Birthday” and the electonica “Sun and Moon.” The Emmy-winning ensemble, who are legendary for their live shows, manages to capture authentic musical richness on every track.
Multiculturalism is having a great month, as evidenced by Aaron Nigel Smith’s Welcome to the Village! This superb collection features not only great guest stars (such as Dan Zanes, Laurie Berkner, Lucky Diaz, and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo), but hundreds of child singers from cities around the U.S. and from a school near Nairobi, Kenya. This uplifting and mind-expanding album’s highlights include a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man Gave Names,” a blues gem entitled “Copy Cat Scat,” and a gentle reggae version of Jewel’s “Hands.”
For the very young, I recommend a solo CD, Songs from the Sandbox, from Stephen Michael Schwartz, who made up one-third of children’s music hall-of-famers Parachute Express. Schwartz knows how to inspire imagination with nifty pop hooks, as shown on the lively “Statues Dance” and the swaying “Valentine Tree.”
Lastly, we have New York City-based Shira & Friends, who deliver a five-song EP called When You’re a Kid. Shira Kobren, a performer and music-and-movement teacher, makes a colorful splash on this high-energy recording. “Dance, Dance, Dance” stands out for its interactive theme of various kinds of dancing and “I Want a Monster” offers a rockin’ case for taking in a monstrous pet.