Stevesongs – Marvelous Day (Rounder): A trip to the beach, firemen, Christmas pageant tryouts, and the water cycle all serve as fodder for the fifth album by SteveSongs (Steve Roslonek). While adults may agree with one character's assessment that the lyrics "have fallen off the silly boat and into a vat of ridiculous," kids won't care. My son can listen to "We're on Our Way" and "Fast Monkey" 10 times in a row without tiring of them. (Sympathy cards may be addressed care of the Monitor's Weekend Section.) Grade: B
John Lithgow – The Sunny Side of the Street (Razor & Tie): The comedian, who's written several well-regarded children's books, now tunes up with a Broadway-infused album of standards, with a little help from two children's choirs and some guest stars. Jazz chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux is a standout with "The Sunny Side of the Street," and Sherie Rene Scott helps bring things to a close with the lovely "Lullaby in Ragtime." The disc does have a few misfires: The maniacal chortling on "The Laughing Policeman" had me diving for the skip button, and I don't care how distinguished its comedic pedigree, "The Song of the Sewer" isn't a helpful choice for parents. But those are made up for by Lithgow's courtly attention to his young guest singers on "Getting to Know You" and "Pick Yourself Up." Grade: B+
Sam Hinton – Whoever Shall Have Some Good Peanuts (Smithsonian Folkways): Musician-biologist Sam Hinton boasted a repertoire of 5,000 songs. If that isn't impressive enough, he could also hum and whistle at the same time. His 1964 children's disc is now available on a remastered CD, and boy, we didn't know what we were missing. The songs all have been tested on generations of kids ("Frog Went Courting" dates back to 1549) and predate the era when lyrics got watered down or clogged with whimsy. (However, people who are used to regarding the "Groundhog" as a weatherman rather than dinner may want to skip that track.)
Classic American tunes like "Old Dan Tucker," "The Green Grass Growing All Around," and the title song are presented with the quiet assurance of someone who really knows what he's doing. Grade: A
Elizabeth Mitchell – You Are My Little Bird (Smithsonian Folkways): For instant peace, just insert this disc and press play. Mitchell's voice projects an effortless sweetness on songs that range from Korean folk tunes to hymns to Bob Marley and the Velvet Underground.
"You Are My Little Bird" is a real family affair: Mitchell's husband, Daniel Littleton, is her musical collaborator and daughter Storey plays the harmonica and sings along on several songs. Mitchell credits Woody Guthrie as an inspiration, and his "Who's My Pretty Baby" and "Grassy grass grass" are included. All in all, a lovely choice. Grade: A–