When Little Friend dances, she looks like an oompah-loompah. She has the rhythm of Steve Martin’s character in “The Jerk”. And she relishes every moment of music.
This morning, she planted her feet in our kitchen, fixed her gaze on me, and proceeded to do a series of squats that would have made my thighs burn as we listened to our newest favorite CD on our tinny kitchen stereo. We discovered Elizabeth’s Mitchell’s album, You are My Little Bird by combing through racks of CDs at our library. It was easy to discard the numerous CDs with hokey grown-ups holding banjos and accompanied by cartoon hippos, frogs, and elephants. Smiling suns? Out. Bubble lettering? Out. Mickey Mouse? Out, out, out. I’ve learned the hard way that if I listen to one kid’s CD, I’ve got to listen to it 999 times. The criteria, then, for music selection is clear: the songs have to make both mommy and baby happy. Such stipulations narrow the field WAY down. We took a chance on Mitchell’s CD because the album art was so whimsical and didn’t include any cartoon animals. Took it home, popped it in the stereo, and…
…It was love at first listen. The first track opens with a contagious clapping rhythm (my daughter’s working on it, but she gets the general idea) and evolves into a two-part harmony between Elizabeth Mitchell and her husband as they sing “Little Liza Jane” through a series of American cities. Mitchell’s voice both haunts and fortifies the lyrics. Her folk-song-ish style stops short of hay bales and banjos (although they’re included on the album–the banjos, that is). The resulting songs on the album are sweet, simple, pure, and addictive.
I’m happy to say that some ill-chosen Disney versions of “She’ll Be Coming Down the Mountain” have been nudged out of my brain by Mitchell’s more welcome rendition of “Three Little Birds.” Lacking the clangs of Bob Marley’s steel drum, Mitchell’s version sounds fresh and inviting. The sounds of her backyard birds mingle with her family’s voices (husband and daughter included) as they produce what is certainly my hands-down favorite version of “Three Little Birds” and may also be my favorite song on the album. It has close competition though with the second track, Mitchell’s cover of Woodie Guthrie’s “Who’s My Pretty Baby.” Mitchell’s playfulness with music clearly communicates how much she adores her daughter. Okay. I can’t decide. The third tie for first place in my favorite song category would have to be “Little Bird, Little Bird,” Elizabeth Mitchell’s take on Pete Seeger’s classic. I find myself singing this song to Little Friend throughout the day, although she seldom dances when I sing it. A commentary on my vocal skills? Probably.
The album offers other noteworthy songs, and Velvet Underground fans (sorry, I’m not one of them) will be happy to find “What Goes On” covered midway through. Classics such as “Peace Like a River” and “Down in the Valley” hold my attention through new additions to the folk song canon, compliments of British, Korean, and Japanese cultures. It’s a homemade jam, grandma’s quilt, fresh-baked bread kind of album. I find it hard to listen to her songs and not wish for an invitation to her family’s next after-dinner jam session.
While the songs on You are My Little Bird are certainly geared toward children, I feel refreshed listening to them too. I’m reminded of nights from my childhood when my family would sit around a neighbor’s bonfire, a few dads strumming guitars, a few marshmallows turning crispy on fork-licked flames, a few stars beginning to stitch the evening sky. Nights when we’d stare, hypnotized, into the orange embers and sing along with folk song favorites. Our voices were a patchwork of highs and lows, on-keys and off. Most importantly, the songs were a common ground where kids and adults alike could play. Elizabeth Mitchell invites me back to those foundational moments, and I, for one, am happy to follow along with her little birds for at least 999 listens.
Listen to excerpts from Elizabeth Mitchell’s CD on Amazon.com. To explore some of her other albums, visit her website. Teach your toddler to say “bird” using the ASL sign via this YouTube clip of my favorite Baby Signs DVD.