Laurie Berkner has been making kids-focused albums since her 1997 release “Whaddaya Think of That?” and with her band (“The Laurie Berkner Band”) has released eight additional records since, including “A Laurie Berkner Christmas”. Oh, and there are also videos, books, appearances on Nick Jr, and even writing the music and lyrics for an Off-Broadway musical. Laurie was also key in the design of a preschool music program in New York City. So, it’s needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), Laurie is centered in the world of musical expression geared toward an audience of children.
“A Laurie Berkner Christmas” is no exception. It’s bright, full of energy, lively, and fun! And, like other artists promoted by Waldmania, her music is enjoyable for all, parents included. Laurie’s Christmas album is a completely happy and spirited collection of songs for the holidays. Her music has a definite lean toward the kiddies in sound and performance, but still is an album for all ages.
The album opens with a version of “Jingle Bells” that Laurie enhances and makes her own, setting a tone that makes you smile that carries through the entire album. Her performances of traditional Christmas songs like “Little Drummer Boy”, “I Saw Three Ships”, “Christmas is Coming”, and “Frosty the Snowman” are familiar for the youngsters, with several including the voices of kiddies helping out.
Two of the standouts among the traditional songs are “Children Go Where I Send Thee” and “Jolly Old St. Nicholas”. “Children…” is re-visioned and re-arranged so that all ten verses are performed, but some are strategically combined to keep the song to 3:13 in length, without losing the counting aspect so popular with children, and also keeping the heart of the song intact. Laurie is joined by Brady Rymer on vocals to turn it into a vibrant duet. “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” is an absolute highlight for me. Laurie slows the tempo a bit, and instead of a fast-paced list of demands for the jolly old elf, the singer is a bit more contemplative and humble, wanting to assure that her siblings' Christmas desires are known to Santa, while hers are whatever Santa sees fit to leave. These are the traditional lyrics, but Laurie’s performance puts a new and extraordinarily caring, pleasing spin to them.
The true gems of the album are Laurie’s original compositions “Santa’s Coming To My House Tonight”, “Candy Cane Jane”, and “Christmas Lights”. “Santa’s Coming To My House” perfectly captures the exuberance and restless excitement of Christmas Eve night, anticipating Santa’s midnight visit. Who among us doesn’t remember trying and trying to get to sleep on Christmas Eve, but the excitement is just too much? “Santa’s Coming To My House Tonight” will bring those memories flooding back. “The Kids” (as credited) provide some pretty awesome backing vocals ("wiggle wiggle wiggle" "ho ho ho") really making the song complete.
“A Laurie Berkner Christmas” is another tremendous example of children’s Christmas music done very well. Kids will love it, and parents will too. I don’t know much about how the world of children’s music marketing works – I expect that for an artist to be successful you have to be truly multi-media with digital music, videos, live performances, and a gig on national children’s television programming sure does help. But I suspect that it’s a pretty tough niche business. The folks at Waldmania are doing it right, with a group of artists that focus on creating music for kids but without sacrificing their musical integrity, and putting every ounce of their inspiring talent into what they do. The Waldmania group and the artists that they represent have earned my respect and admiration.
So, need a Christmas music CD for that long minivan drive to Grandma’s house this holiday season? “A Laurie Berkner Christmas” may be just right. It's chock full of happiness, fun, and smiles!