A gaggle of Judge Dan Mancinis.
I am so, so happy to be with you today.
Debbie Cavalier is a former music teacher and author of music education books who, in 2007, formed a children's music group called Debbie and Friends. The band performs original tunes (some of which are based on recognizable fairy tales) that are available on CD and as animated music videos on YouTube and the Debbie and Friends web site. Debbie and Friends: Story Songs and Sing Alongs is a DVD collection of some of the music videos, as well as a couple of live performances. The songs are culled from the group's two CDs, Story Songs and Sing Alongs, and More Story Songs and Sing Alongs.
Grating children's music is nearly as abundant as oxygen on planet Earth. Most kids' tunes are the sort of irritatingly simple and repetitive pap that screws its way into your brain, sets itself in endless-loop mode, and, before you know it, makes you want to take an awl to your own temple in order to stop the torture. To say I felt a bit of trepidation at the prospect of spinning this Debbie and Friends DVD would be an understatement. But I had nothing the fear. Like Dan Zanes or They Might Be Giants, Cavalier and her cohorts make music that is catchy enough to appeal to children, but with enough complexity not to drive adults bonkers. The tunes are timbre-rich and touch on multiple genres, including pop, rock, and country, so they never become repetitive. They're also well performed and produced.
There are two kinds of songs on this DVD. The first variety is modern takes on familiar fairy tales. "Cinderella," for instance, is a pop ditty about being true to oneself. The modernization is delicately handled so as not to annoy. Jokes never overshadow the music or pander to heavily toward the pint-sized demographic. While the idea of the wolf in "Three Little Pigs" speaking with the voice of a New York Guido may sound incredibly lame, it's actually handled well enough to be amusing. Still, I found the original concepts that make up the second variety of songs more entertaining. "Willie Won't" is a country pop tune about a kid who mugs for the camera instead of smiling—a truth sure to resonate with the multitude of parents out there praying to have at least one normal photograph of their goofball kid before he grows up and leaves home. "Hangin' Around" offers fun and educational lyrics about the names of animal collectives, from a tower of giraffes to a crash of rhinoceros.
In addition to the main program of music videos, there are live concert performances of two songs: "So, So Happy," and "Simon Says," captured at the Berklee College of Music's Café 939 in 2010. There's also a 5-minute reel called "Outtakes" that mainly consists of kids interviewed immediately after a Debbie and Friends live performance.
Most of the animated music videos are framed at 1.78:1 and presented in non-anamorphic transfers, which means that viewers with widescreen displays will be peering at them through a tiny window box in the center of their televisions. The animation itself is attractive, though in a Flash video style that minimizes the frame rate and looks a little cheap. Kid will love the presentation, though, which is bound to look rock-solid when they're watching it on seven-inch LCDs while strapped into five-point harnesses in the backseats of minivans.
The audio presentation is a clean and simple Dolby stereo affair that perfectly captures the well-recorded music.
Given its video limitations and the fact that all of these videos are available for free on YouTube and the Debbie and Friends web site, I can't recommend this DVD. But the tunes themselves give me no pause in recommending Debbie and Friends' two CDs to parents looking for quality children's music that won't drive them to drink.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: DC Music
• Bonus Performances
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