Various Artists – The Arkansas Traveler: Music From Little House On the Prairie
Had Laura Ingalls Wilder been born a bit later and not devoted all her time to writing children’s books and running a farm, she might have made a decent record producer. Throughout her Little House series, Wilder singled out over a hundred traditional American folk songs, more than enough for a hefty box set. But she never got around to recording them, so Dale Cockrell and Butch Baldassari have taken up the task.
Last year, Cockrell, a Vanderbilt University musicologist and founder of Pa’s Fiddle Recordings, and Baldassari, an accomplished bluegrass and classical mandolinist, tested the waters with an Ingalls Wilder sampler of sorts titled Happy Land. On the strength of that album’s success, they’ve sweetened the list of musical guests this time around.
John Cowan musters his full vocal range, sans the raspier edges, on “The Battle Cry Of Freedom”, swelling from a genteel croon to a wide-open belt. Mac Wiseman jovially sing-speaks his way through the nonsensical guitar-and-fiddle romp “The Monkey’s Wedding”, and “Oh! California (Oh! Susanna)” takes a darker, bluesy turn in the hands of Andrea Zonn and Alison Brown. Elizabeth Cook delivers the album’s best performance; her sweet, girlish trill transforms the familiar tune “Old Dan Tucker” into something fresh and coy.
We are privy to a unique experiment — a musicologist-turned-label-head mining children’s literature for album tracklists. Granted, the tidy, sing-songy melodies and lily-white humor of these eighteen songs might take a little adjustment for listeners accustomed to more postmodern fare. But many of the songs have age-transcending appeal, and they all boast sparkling musicianship.