Music Review: Songs That Stir the Heart

There comes a time in the course of human events when a reviewer, albeit a children’s music reviewer, must step away from the stack of potential candidates – Step away there’s nothing to hear here! – and exorcise the demons of self-doubt, deceit and just plain lousy music, in order to gain a new and clearer perspective. I’m not one of those types, however, so I trudge on through the darkness and, in my ignorance, I’ve actually stumbled on a couple of winners that I’d like to share with you if you’re still reading.

In a children’s hospital in Columbus, Ohio, Jim Newton was asked to share his musical talents. The results led to a musical, life-changing epiphany. In his own words: “I felt really awkward and inadequate to be singing with hospitalized children, never having done so before. And though the lobby setting with about 20 children gathered – some in wheelchairs or on crutches, some coming under their own power, and a couple in hospital beds – went OK, I really felt my repertoire fell far short of what the children really needed. Just as I was putting my guitar away, a nurse asked me if I would go to a room to sing for a little 4-year-old boy who was too ill to come out with the other kids. Talk about feeling awkward and inadequate! Here I was – with very few, if any, real children’s songs – singing with a very ill little boy and a mom worn out from countless days and nights of her hospital vigil. And I’m supposed to make them feel better!” Newton was able to connect with the boy and his mother, however, and, for a brief time brought them a few moments of happiness.

Newton then engaged the help of his long-time friend, writer and producer Paul G. Hill, and Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul & Mary) and they began to write and collect songs derived from Newton’s travels. Their most recent release, World Around Song, resonates with fine songs, positive messages and terrific arrangements. There is a passion and mission to this music that speaks to the heart. Take a few short keystrokes to the Web site and experience this purposed journey.

World Around Song, Jim Newton and Noel Paul Stookey, Hugworks, 2001; $15 CD, $10 cassette;

North o’da border, up Canada way, Mike Whitla has followed up his first, fun release, Elephants Have Wrinkles, with an exciting amalgam of original tunes and traditional songs of Americana. Whether channeling Woody Guthrie, Bob Marley, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” Whitla’s arrangements are sharp, diverse and ready to rock. His musical history is sound and his voice is fresh. Early Morning Knee-Slappin’ Tunes has passed the multiple-listening-car-CD-test with flying colors.

Early Morning Knee-Slappin’ Tunes, Mike Whitla, Deep Down Productions, 2005; $16 CD;

– John Wood