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Music Review: Raffi – Animal Songs

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It’s not often that you get a chance to see an adult bliss out while listening to a children’s music recording. Drop by our place sometime while Animal Songs is playing and you’ll get a chance.

Growing up in the public school system in Canada during the eighties has resulted in an unshakable anchoring of sweet childhood memories with lively, upbeat Raffi classics. Nearly all of these classics, the ones that really catch, the ones that persevere are his animal tunes. “Down by the Bay”, “Baby Beluga” and “Goin’ to the Zoo” are enough to transport listeners like me to the green pastures of childhood.

Raffi has a name for people like me. He calls them “Beluga Grads”, referring to us as a generation of young adults who have grown up listening to his music, and now want to share it with their children. I think that’s indisputable. Those of us who were brainwashed…erm, taught to sing Raffi songs in school won’t hesitate to teach our wee ones "Baby Beluga".

When our first daughter was an infant I bought a nursing necklace with a beluga bead on it, the board book version of “Baby Beluga”, I sang it as a lullaby, and her father made her a wooden beluga toy. All of this before I knew of this phenomenon, so I certainly can’t argue with Raffi on that point. How does she feel about Raffi at the age of five? She likes the songs, but not as much as I do. My 2-year-old is entirely different, just ask her "Who Built the Ark?" and she'll let you know in short order – even if her mouth is full of food. It takes time to foster manic devotion, but I know we’ll succeed.

Even if you balk at the term, perhaps your interest has been piqued – a re-release of Raffi’s animal songs from throughout his lengthy career, many dating back to Singable Songs for the Very Young. Somehow, somewhere deep inside of you there’s a longing to share these slices of childhood with your children. Yes – there are sophisticated compositions by new artists: rock, pop and nearly every other genre is now available with child friendly lyrics. The lingering temptation to stock up on Raffi discs somehow lingers despite the plethora of flashier offerings.

How can Raffi compete with his relaxed, warm singing voice and minimal instrumental accompaniment? Most offerings include a simple guitar/mandolin backup; some tracks only a piano. Four tracks include a fuller complement of instruments. I was surprised to find a cover of “Octopus’s Garden” originally recorded for Raffi’s One Light One Sun. “Hey, isn’t this a Beattles tune?” I asked my husband. “Nah, Raffi wouldn’t record a Beattles song!” he exclaimed. Well, you can't be right all the time. “Octopus’s Garden” is a spiffy children’s rendition with a stronger rhythm line than most Raffi songs, and bubbly blurps from a synthesizer providing that underwater atmosphere with jazzy accents from trombone, clarinet, and trumpet.

Raffi really breaks it out with “Baby Beluga” ocean waves, whale squeaks, drums, clarinet, trumpet, and background singers take this flagship song up a level. Still, the resulting sound isn’t boring – it’s rather reassuring, mellow, comforting and nostalgic. My only complaint is that somehow “Robin in the Rain” my personal, all time #1 Raffi song wasn’t included in this compilation.

I’m afraid it’s inevitable, if you grew up on these songs chances are good that you’ll eventually break. You’ll head to Amazon, frenetically click and then, sigh – the Raffi goodness. Animal Songs will arrive simply – in a digipack of chlorine free paper, printed with soy inks. Note liners aren’t included but can be found as .pdf downloads on Raffinews.com.

Raffi continues to enable teachers to hook innocent children on his addictive children’s classics. Lyrics and arrangements for teachers, choir directors, and parents are available for free on his website.

Track Listing:

1. Six Little Ducks

2. Down by the Bay
3. Goin' to the Zoo
4. Here Sits A Monkey
5. Five Little Ducks
6. Eensy Weensy Spider
7. Over in the Meadow
8. Who Built the Ark?
9. Tingalayo
10. Baby Beluga
11. Octopus's Garden
12. Anansi
13. Baa Baa Black Sheep
14. Goodnight, Irene

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About Jennifer Bogart