COLLECTIONS featuring the Muppets, Winnie the Pooh, and Barney, too, are vying for the attention of young listeners these days. But all kinds of other music - from ditties about cats to bilingual songs - are available for families as well. The following is a sampling of releases from this year and last.
Songs from the big screen
The enjoyable soundtrack from "Muppet Treasure Island" (Angel Records) includes lively, generally child-friendly works by veteran songmakers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, creators of classics like "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." Humans and Muppets sing the mostly swashbuckler tunes, some of which feature high-seas villainy and imagery. "A Professional Pirate" and "Love Power," an upbeat reggae song performed by Ziggy Marley and The Melody Makers, are highlights. About half of the recording's 17 selections are instrumental.
Besides Miss Piggy, another porcine star is also available on audio. The music for Academy Award nominee "Babe" (Varese Sarabande) is a mix of instrumentals by The Victorian Philharmonic, a few songs (several sung by "mice"), and occasional dialogue from the movie. It's pleasant enough but lacks the songs and narrative likely to keep children thoroughly engaged. The memorable theme music is based on Symphony No. 3 by Saint-Saens.
Songs about friendship and dating fill the noteworthy soundtrack for "The Baby-Sitters Club" (Sony Wonder). The movie is about 13-year-olds, and that age group and older will appreciate these great beats and lyrics from newer rockers like Letters to Cleo, The Caulfields, and BSC.
Traditional bedtime songs from around the world are beautifully sung by singer-songwriter Freyda Epstein on "Globalullabies" (Music for Little People). The countries represented include Japan, Mexico, and the US. Little ones are helped off to sleep with songs like the simple "Dreams of Harmony," and "Yeke Omo Mi," a popular Nigerian lullaby, sung here in Yoruba and English.
Further world fare is found on "The Celtic Cradle" (Alcazar Productions, Waterbury, Vt.). Jill Rogoff's well-performed, traditional selections are from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, and Brittany. She accompanies many of the gentle songs - which are sung mostly in the native languages of the countries - on guitar and lap harp.
For a break from lyrics, try the entirely instrumental "Sleepy in Seattle" (Golliber Records, Austin, Texas, 800-543-2017). Grammy-winning pianist Floyd Domino plays classics from the 1930s and '40s that will slow things down at bedtime or anytime. Featuring "As Time Goes By" and "It Had to Be You."
A gem of a recording is "Daddies Sing GoodNight" (Sugar Hill Records, Durham, N.C.). These country- and folk-inflected songs are sweetly sung by musicians who are dads. Some, like "Little One" by Alan O'Bryant, touchingly present a father's view of parenthood; others cleverly bring the day to a close, like Chris Hillman's "Lullaby Time in the Desert."
In "Barney's Sleepytime Songs" (EMI Records), the popular purple dinosaur helps get preschoolers ready for bed, then sings them traditional lullabies and original Barneybies. The messages presented are good ones; the classic songs include "Tingalayo" and a pleasant ditty called "A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go."
In honor of Winnie the Pooh's 70th anniversary last year, Walt Disney Records released "Take My Hand: Songs From the 100 Acre Wood." Thoughtful modern takes on Pooh ballads are performed by the Irish band the Chieftains, and Maureen McGovern. The rest are new songs, all easy on parents' ears, but perhaps only the delightful "The Kanga-Roo Hop," sung by talk-show host Kathie Lee Gifford, will grab the attention of the very young.
When children need some music to cut loose to, put on "A Child's Celebration of Rock 'N' Roll" (Music for Little People). Performed by the original artists, toes will tap and hands will clap to these 15 timeless hits, including "Lollipop" by the Chordettes, "Rock Around the Clock," by Bill Haley and the Comets, and "Name Game" by Shirley Ellis.
To expose young listeners to country music, "Big Country ... for One and All" on the same label, is a good place to start. The songs, mostly new, are performed by artists such as Charlie Daniels, Chet Atkins, and Crystal Gayle.
Jeff Sorg shows and tells the joys of music on "Songs Say So Much" (Angel Records). This charming collection includes all the things children like - the zoo, cowboys, dinosaurs - and they can easily sing along. Sorg's original songs and adaptations of traditional ones are all top notch.
Jazz is accessible to kids through singer Maria Bostick's playful "Cool Jazz Cats" (Rabbit Records, New York). Children and parents will groove to this witty group of feline songs, which even features one about a simba - the Swahili word for lion. Bostick notes she wrote it before Disney's movie "The Lion King" popularized the name.
Collections of the enduring songs of Sesame Street are being released by Sony Wonder in droves. Two that are sure to be kid-pleasers are "C Is for Cookie: Cookie's Favorite Songs" sung by the always-hungry Cookie Monster; and "Platinum: All-Time Favorites" featuring "Rubber Duckie," Kermit's "Bein' Green," and the Sesame Street theme.
Longtime children's musician Ella Jenkins delivers a fine collection of greatest hits in "Multi-Cultural Children's Songs" (Smithsonian/Folkways Recordings, Washington, 800-410-9815). Through 23 songs and spoken exchanges with children, the well-traveled Jenkins teaches listeners about foreign languages, global rhythms, and instruments' sounds.
Also appropriate for preschoolers and school-age children is Tish Hinojosa's appealing "Cada Nino/Every Child" (Rounder Records, Cambridge, Mass.). Latino culture and the musical scale are some of her topics. Many are Tex-Mex flavored, and all are sung in English and Spanish.