BOSTON — From an a cappella ditty hummed by a loving parent to a full symphonic arrangement of a traditional tune, the lullaby is one of the oldest and most immediate forms of music as a transformative medium. There is nothing like a lullaby for soothing the fussy, overly tired, or just plain cranky child.
Over the past several years, a wealth of recorded lullaby collections has made it easier than ever to bring this music to the ears of young ones. Some may be soothing to babies but may be so sappy as to have the opposite effect on parents and older kids. Others, like the soulful 'Til Their Eyes Shine (Columbia), with 11 contemporary female vocalists and real-life mothers ranging from Laura Nyro to Gloria Estefan, are more provocative than calming.
But a number of recordings should make appealing listening to both parent and child. Numerous popular artists have creditable lullaby collections, including Linda Ronstadt (Dedicated to the One I Love, Elektra) and Nicolette Larson (Sleep, Baby, Sleep, Sony Wonder). Judy Collins's Baby's Bedtime (Lightyear) is a standby of traditional and original tunes that still makes for a pleasurable listen.
For sheer loveliness, you can't beat Kenny Loggins's Return to Pooh Corner (Sony), a gorgeous (if overproduced) album with a ton of star power, such as Amy Grant, Crosby and Nash, and Chet Atkins to complement Loggins's gentle voice and lustrous musical accompaniments. The charming Daddies Sing GoodNight: a Fathers' Collection of Sleepytime Songs (Sugar Hill) features a variety of well-known folk and bluegrass men such as Leon Redbone, Doc Watson, and Jonathan Edwards singing tunes they sang to their own children.
Billboard's new Family Lullaby Classics is a terrific compilation of film soundtrack lullabies in the original performances, from Danny Kaye singing "Inchworm" to Michael Feinstein crooning "Pure Imagination."
Then there are old classics. Priscilla Herdman's Star Dreamer (Alakazam) is perhaps the bestselling of lullaby recordings, and with good reason. It is a delightful collection that ranges from the danceable narrative "Waltzing With Bears" to Raffi's simple hymn "Thanks a Lot," with tunes becoming slower and quieter toward the recording's end. Herdman's warm vocals are beautifully harmonized and effectively arranged.
Joanie Bartels's Lullaby Magic (Discovery) is also a popular collection of classic tunes and some inspired, more unusual choices, such as James Taylor's gorgeous "Close Your Eyes" and John Lennon's sweet "Good Night." Songs segue into one another, so there's no interruption for the young listener wafting into dreamland.
Kevin Roth's Lullabies for Little Dreamers (Marlboro) is a personal favorite, a simple, heartfelt production featuring familiar tunes in Roth's warm distinctive vocals. In At Quiet O'Clock (Round River Records), singer/songwriter Sally Rogers has mined her own childhood for slightly less-standard tunes in a stunning collection that is beautifully sung, colorfully arranged, and very well produced. Jon Crosse's pleasant Lullabies Go Jazz (Jazz Cat) turns eight standard lullabies into quiet jazz instrumentals, and Steve Rashid's I Will Hold Your Tiny Hand (Woodside Avenue Music) is an engaging compilation of original, often jazz-flavored tunes.
On the classical side, PARENTS' The Lullaby Album (Angel) is a lovely, hour-long compilation of some of the most beautiful as well as restful music of the past four centuries, from Bach to Debussy. Carol Rosenberger's such stuff as Dreams on Delos is tastefully designed for listeners of all ages.
On the multicultural front, The World Sings Goodnight (Silver Wave) and The Planet Sleeps (Sony) are fascinating compilations of lullabies from around the world sung in their native languages. Songs are sung by expressive, often untrained voices that eloquently convey the purity of the lullaby's intent.
Lullaby: a Collection (Music for Little People) also features songs from all over the world, but by more familiar artists such as Bobby McFerrin, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Sweet Honey in the Rock. The diversity and unfamiliarity may make it less soothing for preschoolers but more intriguing for older kids.
Most parents at some time stumble onto something off the beaten path, anything from medieval chant to the Beatles. My favorite is Lullabies and Dances with Julianne Baird & Bill Crofut (Albany). This collection of classically oriented and traditional folk lullabies and dances, which combines Baird's sweet soprano and the lively instrumentation of the Crofut Consort, is engaging anytime of day.
* To locate the above titles, check your local retailers or try the mail-order firm of Alcazar (800-541-9904).