November 18, 2011

Review: Cranberry Red Balloon by Tab Laven

As I'm sure you recall, I am pretty much obsessed with music.  So, naturally, when I got an email offering me a free copy of a CD to review on the blog, I pretty much jumped at the chance.  That CD is "Cranberry Red Balloon" by Tab Laven.

Let me start by saying- I hate "music for children."  I don't know how some parents do it, pretending not to hear the horrible sounds coming from The Wiggles, or Sharon, Lois, and Bram.  I just can't.  I'm of the opinion that exposing children to music is like exposing them to food.  If you expose them to GOOD music, they'll learn to like good music.  If you expose them to GOOD food, they'll learn to like good food.

It's why my kids won't eat American cheese, but they love some Smoked Gouda.

Of course, sometimes it's hard to decide what music is appropriate.  After all, as much as DD loved bouncing along to Jay-Z's "99 Problems" when she was six months old, now that she's verbal you can bet we're not rocking out to that so much.

When I was a kid, I listened to a lot of The Beatles, and a mixed back of folk music from the 60s and 70s.  My parents, the hippies that they are, were very into groups like Steeleye Span and Simon and Garfunkel.  And those were wonderful for a kid, with a few exceptions.  (I remember being plainly puzzled by the song "Richard Corey," having no idea what "orgies on his yacht," could possibly mean.)

"Cranberry Red Balloon" is a folk album.  Pure and simple.  It sounds more like the Kings of Convenience than Simon and Garfunkel, even with Art Garfunkel lending his voice to the title track.  Which is to say, this is a quiet, peaceful album of quiet, peaceful, happy little folk songs.

It's music I am totally happy to have playing in the background around my house.  It's completely innocuous, unoffensive, and lovely.

That said, there isn't much more to it than that.

What I said about good music leading to a love of good music, that doesn't mean just avoiding bad music.  This album is not bad- in no way is this album bad.  In some ways, it's poorly conceived.  In some ways, it could use a few re-writes (as an adult, I can't help but find the female singer's repeated line in "Lost in a Daydream" about laying on her back and fantasizing less than sexual).  But it is not bad.

It's just also not great.

I really wanted to like it more.  I really did.  But I felt over and over again that Tab Laven was trying too hard to write for kids, and not to write something good.  He succeeds in writing something good with a few of the tracks.  "Perfect Day" and "Close Your Eyes" are perfectly lovely songs.  But the rest are completely forgettable.

"Cranberry Red Balloon" doesn't fall into the category of children's music aimed at toddlers- it's not easy to mimic songs with built in dances, it's not educational.  It's not counting games, or animal identification.  It's folk music.  And I think that's a great idea.

But I think that folk music doesn't specifically need to be targeted to children.  Folk music is already ideal for children.  It's uncomplicated, it's pretty, and it's generally catchy.  But it doesn't need to limit itself to the idea of what children can and might understand.

I was vividly reminded of a CD my parents once bought for their dogs.  It included songs like, "Oh you're a good dog!"  It was all written in major keys, with lots of words that dogs would recognize, like "good" and "ball" and "I love you."

"Cranberry Red Balloon" did pretty much the same thing, only for small children.  Each song was peppered with vocabulary that my own kids would be able to recognize and relate to.  Balloon, moon, sky, tree, rain... it's noun heavy, and full of simple concept nouns.  To the point that it almost seems forced.

I think of music as being an opportunity.  A child hears a lyric they like but don't understand, and they ask about it.  While I'm not entirely sure how I would respond to my kids asking me what and orgy was, I'm sure I would respond well to them asking me what, say, and eclipse was.  Or what some strange polysyllabic word meant.  I don't want music dumbed down to my kids.  I want music that achieves its own potential for quality, and that also happens to be child friendly.

In short, this is a lovely CD.  But it probably won't become regular listening in our house.  We'll stick with music that the grown ups genuinely enjoy, and try to keep the Jay Z to a minimum around the munchkins.


  1. Hi, great pics of balloons, i love red balloons the most. They can be spotted easily from afar. Balloons can make one happy.Animal BalloonsThank you.

  2. Maybe you need to revisit childhood..and the child within yourself.



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