Elizabeth Mitchell and her husband Daniel Littleton have been making music together for years as the indie folk rock band Ida. Mitchell's side project as a children's musician, though, has skyrocketed her to international fame as a sort of new folk collector. She and husband Daniel Littleton have released five albums for families, including 1998's You Are My Flower, 2002's You Are My Sunshine, her 2006 major label debut You Are My Little Bird (Smithsonian Folkways), 2010's Sunny Day, and Little Seed in 2012.
Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) is best known for such Dust Bowl-era classics as "This Land is Your Land," "Pastures of Plenty," and "Hard, Ain't It Hard." But his softer side is shown on albums like Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child, a timeless, loving musical gift to his son and to families worldwide. Guthrie was urged by Folkways founder Moses Asch to record the tunes heard on Songs, as well as its companion album, Nursery Days.
The Music of 'Little Seed'
We all go "Riding in My Car" as Little Seed gently begins with a tune originally recorded for and released on Elizabeth Mitchell's 2002 family album You Are My Sunshine. Next is the relatively famous tune "Bling Blang," a song that has been covered by children's artists as varied as Dog On Fleas, Frances England, Johnny Keener, Fox and Branch, Old Town School of Folk Music, and Woody's son Arlo Guthrie. On Little Seed, the arrangement has been reduced to no more than vocals, a banjo, and minimal percussion, yet begs to be enthusiastically sung along to.
The chugging, shuffling "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8" is full of fun words and percussive lyrics, while the swinging, swaying bluegrass of "Why, Oh Why?" mirrors the infinitely questioning mind of a three year old. The lullaby "Sleep Eye" is given a joyful, jaunty feel by head Dog on Flea Dean Jones' balafon, and "Who's My Pretty Baby?," a song that will have you up out of your seat dancing, is reprised from Elizabeth Mitchell's 2006 album You Are My Litle Bird. The percussive "Rattle My Rattle" is a great example of Woody Guthrie's ability to create a song out of seemingly a jumble of words, with Elizabeth Mitchell singing to a minimal accompaniment of percussion, melodica, and flute.
More Music from 'Little Seed'
Anyone making an album of Woody Guthrie songs for kids would undoubtedly include "This Land is Your Land," one of the most famous tunes in American history, but most of those artists would not be able to perform the song with the poignancy, tenderness, and strengh of Elizabeth Mitchell. Her inclusion of three verses usually left out of most performer's renditions probably won't win her over any conservative-thinking fans, but the lyrics of those particular lines combined with strategically-placed minor chords bring the sentiment of those words to the fore. The quietly waltzing "Merry-Go-Round" would sound right at home being played on a Coney Island carousel, while the numerically celebratory "One Day Old" was originally recorded for and released on Elizabeth Mitchell's first album for families, 1998's You Are My Flower.
"Little Sugar" (also known as "Little Sack of Sugar") is another well-known Guthrie favorite, having been covered by artists like blues musician Taj Mahal and kids' performer Brady Rymer, and was also released on You Are My Flower. "Grassy Grass Grass," first heard on Mitchell's 2006 album You Are My Little Bird, is an intimate, brief, spoken-word piece that would be perfect for bringing little one's day to a gentle close. "Little Seed" features a full band, including vocal help from Levon Helm's daughter Amy, and is a gloriously rousing Americana sing-along. The chorus of "Tooky, tooky, tooky, tooky, tidalo" will have every household, library, and auditorium joining voices, which is just the way Woody would have liked it.
It may not be cosmically possible for Elizabeth Mitchell to release an unrewarding, lackluster, run of the mill album; nevertheless it's always great to see that she's still got the magic touch. Anyone can record an album of Woody Guthrie songs (and many people have!), but it takes a nimble but earthy musical touch to get it just right. Little Seed is an all around winner, and is highly recommended for any home, classroom, and library. Send a copy to your congressperson and ask them to thoughtfully listen to all the verses of "This Land is Your Land," maybe it'll open up some minds and hearts.
Released July 10, 2012; Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
- "Riding in My Car"
- "Bling Blang"
- "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8"
- "Why, Oh Why?"
- "Sleep Eye"
- "Who's My Pretty Baby?"
- "Rattle My Rattle"
- "This Land is Your Land"
- "One Day Old"
- "Little Sugar"
- "Grassy Grass Grass"
- "Little Seed"