Family Travel Tunes: 7 Selections for Your Summer Sojourn Playlist

 By John Wood

You’re going on vacation! Yay! You pack the usual amenities, gas up the car for around $300 and head on down the highway looking for adventure. But wait, what’s that on the seat by the iPods and portable CD players?  Why, it’s a veritable plethora of great children’s CDs. Let’s zoom in closer and check them out:

First out of the musical chute is Folk Playground (Putumayo Kids, 2006; $14.98 CD; I know what you’re thinking. Folk music? Ancient history! But hang with me a moment. This compilation, craftily assembled from classics and new originals with some genuine treats, truly hits the mark. Case in point, Michelle Shocked gives new meaning to the Disney classic “Got No Strings” from Pinocchio, and Leon Redbone digs deep into the treasure trove for “Polly Wolly Doodle.” Popular children’s performers Dan Zanes, Laurie Berkner, Justin Roberts, Brady Rymer, Elizabeth Mitchell and Trout Fishing in America lend their admirable talents as well. But one of the most salient songs is the closing track by Eric Bibb and Michael Jerome Browne. Titled “Just Look Up,” it’s a gospel-tinged positive metaphor for moving-on-down-the-road.

What will you be listening to this summer?
Join the discussion and post your vacation music suggestions: The Best Traveling Tunes

And that’s just what we’re doing because now we’re popping in the aforementioned Justin Roberts’ newest release Meltdown! (Carpet Square Records, 2006; $15.98 CD; Roberts’ uncanny ability to channel the musical styles of, say, James Taylor or Paul Simon, mix in a childlike perspective and then morph it all into an upbeat toe-tapping, finger-snapping, sing-along good time is a refreshing gift for the whole family. Whether struggling with his eyesight in “Get Me Some Glasses,” romping with an imaginary friend in “Our Imaginary Rhino” or rejoicing over a new baby sister in “Cartwheels and Somersaults,” Roberts’ perceptions are right on the money.

Lookout, here’s a fork in the road! Find a knife and let’s have dinner, and listen to the brilliant concept created by Richard Perlmutter, Beethoven’s Wig 3: Many More Sing-Along Symphonies (Rounder Records, 2006; $12.98 CD; What differentiates the wigs you might ask? With a tip of the hat to Alan Sherman, in this outing Perlmutter focuses on specific orchestral musical instruments and opens the classical blinders to Bach, Bizet, Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Handel among others. And, in so doing, he enlightens, illuminates and reinforces what deep inside we already know: these guys were the rock stars of their time and through the creative parting of the veil via Perlmutter, we learn that Beethoven wrote pieces for the mandolin because he had his eye on a hottie named Josephine, who – you guessed it – played the mandolin. And don’t miss “How to Succeed As Royalty,” a homage to the life-after-marriage-challenged King Henry VIII. (Remember “Greensleeves” – No. 1 with an axe?) Good stuff.

As Beethoven de-composes, we continue our road trip and segue into the world of John Boydston a.k.a. Daddy A GoGo’s Eat Every Bean and Pea on Your Plate (Boyd’s Tone Records, 2006; $12 CD; Let’s inject a little quirkiness to perk up the trip. “I write and record three-chord songs about the three C’s of my life – carpooling, coaching and cleaning,” Boydston says. There have been four previous rockin’ CDs and now his 14- and 11-year-old sons are backing him up in the family biz on drums and bass. With titles like “Pink Floyd Saved Hugh Manatee” (think about it), “Listen to the Flower People” (inspired by This is Spinal Tap) and “For Those About to Walk, We Salute You,” there’s a little something for everyone in the car. Rock on and eat every bean and pea on your plate!

OK, I think we’re ready for some show tunes. Connie Kaldor’s book and CD A Duck in New York City (The Secret Mountain, 2005; $16.95 Book/CD, $12.98 CD; fits the bill (bill, get it? A duck’s … oh, never mind). A consummate performer and songwriter, Kaldor includes songs about a friendly hippopotamus, waltzing alligators and operatic slugs, while also taking on belly buttons, clouds and tomatoes. So, you see, it’s just not all about the duck. But if you can make it anywhere it’s New York, New York, New York! The songs are inspired, the production immaculate and the 3-D illustrations in the book by Fil & Julie are terrific. The CD also includes printable lyrics, charts and illustrations when you land at a computer terminal travelers.

Those of you with a DVD player in tow should definitely be packing East Coast phenom Laurie Berkner’s We Are The Laurie Berkner Band (Two Tomatoes/Razor & Tie, 2006; $17 DVD; The caffeine-fueled juggernaut known as Starbucks has the DVD in all of its stores – a first for family-based music – and Berkner’s appearances on Noggin’s Jack’s Big Music Show have given her a high-profile for the little ones. The music is upbeat and infectious and the videos invite participation from the get-go. The DVD features all new recordings of Berkner’s songs and includes a companion CD of songs from previous albums and one, “Walk Along the River,” that was formerly unavailable. You’ll be chillin’ like Magellan with all the entertainment value!

Award-winning master storyteller Bill Harley has a new nearly hour-long recording of four fabulous stories that will have the family laughing and guffawing all the way to Bakersfield, or wherever Aunt Pearl lives! It’s called Bill Harley – Blah, Blah, Blah (Round River Records, 2005; $15 CD; “The Ballad of Dirty Joe,” the tale of a pirate who steals socks and his sister who steals underwear, will get you going, and the not-so-scary “The King of the Clams” will give you pause about collecting living sea creatures. “Bow Wow Wow,” a calypso-tinged story-song paean to a pack of dogs partying down by the beach and all getting along like … dogs will have you dancin’ in your seat. “Joey, Chloe and the Swamp Monsters,” a Harley original classic and tribute to many old folk stories, rounds out the album. The stories are all first-rate – perfect for long trips and fun for sharing.

I hope you enjoy these road trip picks. Of course, you’ve probably got your own favorites tucked away too, so add them to the musical jambalaya. Music and stories are fun anytime, anywhere, especially on vacation! Have a great one, be safe, and send me a postcard.

Join the discussion and post your vacation music suggestions: The Best Traveling Tunes

Click here to see all of John Wood's Music Reviews