When first approached about reviewing an album of East Asian folk songs for kids (and kids at heart, of course), I was a bit reluctant. After all, what do I know about Asian music? But I realized that is exactly the point. In order to learn something about a culture, you have to start somewhere. The two best starting points I can think of are food and music. And although the title of Elena Moon Park's new album, Rabbit Days and Dumplings, would be a great name for a cookbook, it is the music within that will feed you. And it is quite a feast indeed.
Elena Moon Park is a member of the band Dan Zanes' and Friends, which is a good tip-off to the fact that something special awaits your ears. Park's realization that there was little Asian music available for western families led her to bring old folk songs from Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and Tibet into today's musical landscape. Rabbit Days and Dumplings maintains an authentic feel throughout but still manages to sound fresh and new. It echoes the vitality of classic Pete Seeger albums by embracing different cultures and instruments wholeheartedly and celebrating them to the hilt while at the same time undertaking the important task of introducing them to listeners in America and beyond.
The track Diu Diu Deng won me over immediately with its western soundtrack feel, including a cool banjo breakdown and topped off with the sounds of train in the distance. Tum Tum Chuen is a nice mix of ukelele, flutes, and interesting sound effects, giving it a one-of-a-kind island vibe. The repeated refrain of 'Spinning round and round' was a big hit with my little one.
Si Si Sima has the feel of a sassy playground jump rope rhyme, complete with a strident beat and complex rhythmic hand claps. When a jaw harp crashes the party at the end, it somehow fits in seamlessly. My personal favorite was Aka Tombo, whose flutes and carefully plucked acoustic guitar brought to mind Irish music played from the heart. Its reinforced the idea that music really knows no borders.
Rabbit Days and Dumplings is not only a great introduction to the music of East Asia, it is great music, period. Interesting instrumentation, unusual but compelling rhythms and playful lyrics make this album shine, from start to finish.
Rabbit Days and Dumplings, a Festival Five Records release, will be available on September 25, 2012. You can find it at Amazon and the Festival Five website. For more information visit the Rabbit Days blog.